Game notes, and fun moments from Clark County’s state regional games
BATTLE GROUND — The King’s Way Christian Knights survived.
The La Center Wildcats and Prairie Falcons moved into prime position.
And even though Columbia River found the wrong end of the scoreboard, the Chieftains will live to play another day.
Clark County teams went 3-1 Saturday at the four state regional basketball games held at Battle Ground High School. In all, eight teams from the county are still in the hunt for state championships in various classifications.
The basketball extravaganza at Battle Ground started at 10 a.m., with the La Center boys beating Deer Park to advance directly to the Class 1A quarterfinals in Yakima.
The Prairie girls basketball team followed with a noon game and got the win over Arlington, earning a trip to the 3A quarterfinals in Tacoma.
The Columbia River boys rallied but did not catch up against Selah in the 2 p.m. game. The Chieftains will have to take a longer route if they are to reach their goals in the 2A tournament. They will play Wednesday in Yakima in an elimination game.
King’s Way Christian wrapped up the day, winning the only elimination game at the Battle Ground regional. The Knights pulled away from Overlake to advance to Yakima for the 1A round-of-12.
Here is how it all went down Saturday, with notes on each game plus a fun moment from each game:
KING’S WAY CHRISTIAN 71, OVERLAKE 52
Gage Koenders missed half the season with an injury, so he might have come into these playoffs as an unknown outside of the King’s Way Christian program.
He will no longer be a secret.
Koenders thrilled the King’s Way crowd by making his first five shots Saturday — all from 3-point range — and ended up with a career-high 22 points.
He did all that under the pressure of a loser-out game.
Freshman Bryson Metz, meanwhile, handled the pressure just fine, too, scoring eight of his 16 points in the fourth quarter as the Knights extended a seven-point lead a 19-point victory.
“It was crazy,” Koenders said of his first half. “Crazy.”
Crazy good, that is.
“The team was playing great, moving the ball around, and doing what we needed to get back to the dome,” he said.
This will be the Knights’ fifth consecutive trip to the Yakima Valley SunDome for the final week of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association tournament.
“I’m glad I’ve got another week with them,” King’s Way Christian coach Daven Harmeling said. “It’s fun to hang out with them. It’s a special group.”
He was impressed with his team’s performance, but he wanted to make sure Metz got some credit.
“He’s 14-years-old,” the coach said. “He didn’t look afraid of the moment to me.”
“My mindset coming into the game was to attack more,” Metz said. “Not just for me scoring, but to open up things for my teammates.”
King’s Way stat-keepers had Metz with eight assists, too.
The Knights started hot, making 10 of their first 12 shots to score 27 first-quarter points. The Owls hung around, though, until Metz scored his team’s first six points of the fourth quarter and the rout had started.
King’s Way will play in a round-of-12 elimination game Wednesday at the SunDome. If the Knights win, they will advance to the quarterfinals and be assured of at least two more games in Yakima.
Fun moment: Koenders’ sixth 3-point attempt went in-and-out. The King’s Way Christian crowd all went “aaahhhhh.” They expected the ball to go down, and they wanted to roar their approval. Still, a fun stretch for Koenders, who said he has never made five in a row in a game before Saturday.
SELAH 66, COLUMBIA RIVER 61
Elijah Pepper, one of the top players in the state, showed off his skills with 23 points and eight steals as Selah held off several Columbia River second-half rallies.
The Chieftains, the No. 2 team in the RPI, were hoping to advance to the Class 2A boys basketball state quarterfinals. Instead, they will have to play Wednesday at the Yakima Valley SunDome in the round-of-12, in an elimination game.
If there is such a thing as momentum after a loss, the Chieftains might have some.
They were down 14 at the half. They made it a four-point game early in the third quarter. Then they were behind by 12. And again, it was down to four points, still in the third quarter.
Selah got it back up to a 10-point lead midway through the fourth, but River was not done, getting it to within four in the final minute, forcing the game into a series of free throws.
Jack Armstrong would bury a 3-pointer with 4 seconds left to make it 64-61, giving River one last hope.
Nope. Selah made its free throws
“Wish we could have won our last game in Clark County, but it was still a fun game,” Armstrong said. “Looking forward to Yakima and playing in the SunDome.”
He and the Chieftains do have reason for optimism. River’s 16-game win streak was snapped, but in all of those games, the Chieftains won by double digits. Armstrong said playing from behind all day in this one will be beneficial.
“It was a good reminder, how to play in big basketball games like this,” Armstrong said. “It’s going to help us in the state tournament. It will help us in certain situations.”
While Pepper ended up scoring 14 of his 23 points in the second half, he had to work for everything against the stubborn defense of Armstrong.
As River mounted its first comeback attempt, Armstrong got two steals and also stayed in front of Pepper and forcing another turnover.
“Nothing changed at halftime but our attitude,” Armstrong said. “We needed to come out with fire, and we did. We were right back in this. Just couldn’t finish it out.”
Pepper would get a couple easier shots after he stole more River passes and started the fast break. Plus, the Chieftains were unlucky on the final play of the third quarter. River’s defense was solid as the clock was winding down, then a pass was deflected and deflected again, with the ball going straight to Pepper, who made a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Evan Dirksen scored 14 of his team-high 17 points in the second half for the Chieftains. Nate Snook added 16 points, and Armstrong finished with 15.
Fun moment: Let’s go all the way to the first possession of the game, the first shot of the game. Columbia River’s Nate Snook took a 3-pointer. Perfectly placed. Swish. Now, I cannot guarantee that Snook never saw the ball go in the basket, but it sure looked to me that he had already turned his back to run back to play defense. It was such a pure shot, he might have done a Stephen Curry. No need to actually see the ball go in the basket when you know it’s going in the basket.
PRAIRIE 55, ARLINGTON 46
The Prairie Falcons wanted to try a little something different this year.
Forget about that round-of-12 stuff at the Tacome Dome.
Play an even tougher non-league schedule, win a lot of games with that schedule, get a good RPI, and then win in the state regionals to avoid that round-of-12.
The Falcons have executed that plan flawlessly.
Cassidy Gardner made five 3-pointers and scored 25 points, and the Prairie defense won on point for much of the game, sending Prairie to the Class 3A quarterfinals. The Falcons will play at 10:30 a.m. Thursday in the Tacoma Dome.
“I’m happy with how I shot, but I’m always thinking in the back of my mind I could shoot better,” Gardner said.
Arlington jumped out to a 9-3 lead, but Gardner tied the game with back-to-back 3-pointers, starting a 12-0 run for the Falcons. While the game remained close for the next quarter, Prairie never lost the lead after that run.
A lot of that had to do with defense, too. Haley Reed and Meri Dunford gave Prairie a spark off the bench with their defensive intensity. Reed said her favorite moment from the game was getting three stops in a row on defense, which led to three scores in a row on offense for the team.
“We work so hard in practice, starters and non-starters,” Reed said. “We make sure the whole team is prepared.”
Gardner scored the final seven points of the first half, giving Prairie a nine-point lead. The advantage ballooned to 17 in the third quarter.
Prairie coach Hala Corral credited Reed for her play. Reed does not need to score to have an impact. Reed had five rebounds, two blocked shots, and a lot of stuff that does not show up in the boxscore.
“My role is to bring energy to the court, play solid defense,” Reed said.
She also appreciated that the coaches noticed her game Saturday.
“That feels good. It helps give me more confidence, which helps my team’s confidence.”
Corral said she was pleased with the performance overall. Too many turnovers, she said, but those can be fixed in practice.
“It’s very hard to be the No. 1 team,” Corral said, referring to Prairie’s RPI. “Everyone is gunning for you.”
The Falcons celebrated their win and got to celebrate with their fans. There were plenty who got to see this “close-enough-to-a-home-game game.”
“It’s great to have the stands as full as they were and having everyone here,” Corral said, noting that it is not just the team that wants a state championship. “It’s the entire community. You have to have everyone’s support.”
The Falcons hope they get a big crowd in Tacoma for the elite eight and, they hope, beyond. The Falcons are exactly where they wanted to be at this point.
“It’s big for this team,” Corral said. “They worked hard all year to get the bye.”
Fun moment: So Gardner made all those 3-pointers, but her most impressive shot came after the most impressive pass of the game from Allison Corral.
From the point of view of the press table, in the far corner of the gym, Corral had what appeared to be an open lane to try for a lay-up. Then she passed the ball, seemingly to no one. Well, Corral saw just perfectly.
Gardner was cutting toward the basket. She took the pass and in an insta-second tossed up a reverse lay-up to put Prairie up 14 early in the third quarter.
“Honestly, I don’t know,” Gardner said. “It was there, and I just shot it. We work on that in practice. Might as well try it here. It was a really good pass. I had to finish.”
LA CENTER 63, DEER PARK 46
There were nine lead changes in the first half.
Deer Park took the lead again early in the third quarter, too.
Then it was all La Center, all the time, going all the way to Class 1A boys basketball state quarterfinals.
A wild pass by Deer Park went into the backcourt, and La Center’s Colby Shaw outraced his opponent to get there first, converting on a lay-up to put the Wildcats up 36-34 midway through the third quarter.
It might not have seemed like much at the time, but it was the score that started it all for La Center.
“We knew that they were wearing down,” La Center’s Hunter Ecklund said. “We just turned it up.”
They increased the lead to 10 by the end of the third quarter, then scored the first 11 points of the fourth quarter.
Elite eight, here comes La Center.
“Our goal is at least the semifinals,” Ecklund said. “That hasn’t been done here since …”
“This was a huge game for us.”
Yes, now the Wildcats are one win away from the final four. La Center will play its quarterfinal game in Yakima at 9 p.m. Thursday.
Avery Seter led the way Saturday with 17 points. Evan Norris added 15, Ecklund had 13, and Shaw finished with 11.
“It means everything,” Seter said. “Our school hasn’t been in this position in a long time. We’re sitting pretty. It’s exciting. We’re ready for it.”
Good position, certainly, but they are not satisfied.
“Not done yet, though,” Shaw said. “We have to keep going.”
The Wildcats also thanked their fans.
“It was a pretty good advantage,” Shaw said.
“It was an early morning game, but we had a great crowd,” Seter said. “Tremendous support. It means everything.”
Fun moment: Well, how about a fun half? Ecklund, the Trico League player of the year, was held scoreless in the first half. It was a one-point game at the half, too. Then Ecklund scored 13 second-half points and La Center ran away with the victory. So that was all by design, right, to give a false sense of security to the opponent?
“Oh yes, oh yes definitely,” Ecklund said with a smile.
There were four games outside of the county featuring teams from the area.
Class 4A girls:
Camas’ season came to an end with a 48-34 loss to Chiawana. Still, this was the third consecutive trip to state and fourth in five years for a program that had only been to state twice.
Class 3A girls:
The Hudson’s Bay Eagles had a great comeback bid in their elimination game Saturday, but Roosevelt got it done at the end for a 48-45 victory. This was the third time in program history Bay reached the state round of 16.
Class 2A girls:
The Washougal Panthers had a huge Saturday, winning in a regional seeding game to advance directly to the state quarterfinals. Beyonce Bea had 22 points and 11 rebounds, leading the Panthers to a 52-45 win over East Valley of Spokane.
Class 1A boys:
Seton Catholic’s magical postseason run ended Saturday. Bellevue Christian pulled away late for a 58-48 win. The loss might not feel good, but this team made history. It is the first basketball team from Seton Catholic to reach the state tournament.
Going to the domes:
Class 4A boys: Union and Battle Ground
Class 3A boys: Prairie
Class 3A girls: Prairie
Class 2A boys: Columbia River
Class 2A girls: Washougal
Class 1A boys: La Center and King’s Way Christian