It was as close as a game can be — the first half, at least.
The second half, not so much.
After taking a slim 26-24 lead into halftime the No. 2 Fortuna Huskies boys’ basketball team failed to make a single field goal in the third quarter as the No. 1 Branson Bulls outscored Fortuna 18-2 in the third en route to a 63-43 win in the North Coast Section Division-IV championship game, tallying the team’s third straight section championship and its 11th in program history, Friday night at the College of Marin (Kentfield).
Heading into halftime, Branson head coach Jonas Honick knew with a few adjustments his Bulls could change the game.
“They scored about 12 points in the first half just by having their wings and guards beat our guys down the court in transition. We had poor court balance in the first half; they were just getting back quicker than us,” Honick said. “The big adjustment we made was just having our guards get back on defense faster. I thought we could have a 10-point lead heading into the fourth quarter if we did that and hit the shots we usually make.”
Heading into the fourth Branson led by 14.
Bulls’ senior Viktor Rajkovic, whether it was keeping Branson close with Fortuna in the first half or helping his team run away from the Huskies in the second half, was at the center of everything the Bulls did Friday night.
“We needed some shots from (Viktor Rajkovic) and he stepped up,” Honick said. “It was a tale of two halves for him, but he’s a great player and after he hit a few shots, really found his confidence.”
The third-year varsity player had 12 points in the first half as neither team led by more than a single basket for the entirety of the first two quarters. In the third quarter, Rajkovic cemented himself as the player of the night, scoring 11 of his 30 points in the frame as his Bulls turned a 2-point halftime deficit into a 14-point lead going into the fourth quarter. The other two starting seniors on the team, Aidan Demian and Will Jacobsen, combined for 12 points in the game as Branson leaned on its experience to take its third consecutive section title.
Fortuna, meanwhile, had zero success finding a bucket for the majority of the second half as its lone two third-quarter points came from a pair of Bradley Willis free throws. Fortuna’s scoring woes continued in the fourth as the team’s first field goal didn’t come till a little more than two minutes into the period — Willis, again, was behind the score which ended a more than 10-minute, field goal-less streak.
But it was already too late as Willis’ bucket made the score 49-30 with less than six minutes to play as the prior 10-minute stretch saw the Bulls outscore the Huskies 25-4.
“Branson is known for their defense, and it showed tonight,” Fortuna head coach Tony Miles said. “We didn’t shoot well from behind the arc tonight, and we didn’t do a whole lot better inside.”
Fortuna, a prolific 3-point shooting team throughout the season, made just 5-21 from behind the arc — and three of those didn’t come until the final three minutes of the game.
Friday night marked just the second time Fortuna has scored less than 50 points in a game. In fact, 43 points is the lowest scoring output for the Huskies all season and nearly 30 points less than their average while Branson, which entered Friday’s game averaging 58 points per game, scored 63 on the night.
Bradley Willis led Fortuna in scoring with 15 points while Drew Gillette chipped in 10 and Donald Willis, 9. Branson was led by Rajkovic with 30 points, followed by Jacobsen with 10 and Lukas Prongos with 9.
Both teams will now await selection Sunday to find out where they land in the NorCal state championships. For Branson (29-2), NorCals are nothing new but for Fortuna (29-2), it will be the team’s second all-time appearance in the end-of-season tournament.
“It’s a bummer to have it end like this, but I am super proud of this team, our coaches and our boys,” Miles said. “It’s been a phenomenal year.”