State regionals: Union, Skyview, La Center will call Battle Ground home for a day

Three boys basketball games scheduled for Battle Ground HS on Saturday

One more state regional preview basketball post.

This one will deal with the teams that get to stay in Clark County for their matchups. 

Battle Ground High School will host three games. One is for seeding purposes, and two are elimination games.

Our first two preview stories featured the five girls basketball teams on the road, and the five boys teams that are playing outside of Clark County, as well. Go to Clark County Today’s sports page to find those links: https://www.clarkcountytoday.com/category/sports/

On Saturday, though, Clark County fans will not have to leave the county to watch these three games:

Class 4A

No. 8 Gonzaga Prep (19-6) vs. No. 1 Union (24-0)

2 p.m. Saturday at BGHS

At stake: Winner advances to state quarterfinals, March 5 in the Tacoma Dome. Loser goes to the round of 12, March 4, in the Tacoma Dome.

Kaden Horn (left) and Tanner Toolson have had a lot to celebrate so far this season. Horn is an all-leaguer, and Toolson is the 4A GSHL Player of the Year. Union plays Gonzaga Prep in a state regional game Saturday at Battle Ground High School. Photo by Mike Schultz
Kaden Horn (left) and Tanner Toolson have had a lot to celebrate so far this season. Horn is an all-leaguer, and Toolson is the 4A GSHL Player of the Year. Union plays Gonzaga Prep in a state regional game Saturday at Battle Ground High School. Photo by Mike Schultz

The Titans did not get the top seed just for being undefeated. They got it for being undefeated and playing an incredibly tough schedule. Half of the team’s wins have come against teams that have made it to the state tournament. That does not include the three wins at a California tournament, also against quality competition.

It is not a win-at-all costs mentality, though.

“If you watch this team play, they play as hard as anybody could play,” Union coach Blake Conley said. “They compete.  But, man, they are a really goofy bunch. They love singing. It’s amazing how they can turn it on or turn it off. When they need to be serious, they’re extremely serious and competitive … but they are a really goofy bunch, too.

“They know when to compete and when they can goof around. It’s a special group to be around.”

Speaking of Goofy, if you haven’t seen it, take a look at this Disneyland + Union basketball video story:

Among Union’s 12 wins over state tourney teams is one over Gonzaga Prep in early January. That was a signature victory for the season because Gonzaga Prep is the two-time defending state champion.

Union all-leaguers: Tanner Toolson (POY); Kaden Horn (1st); Brad Lackey (1st, but injured and will not play).

No. 14 Jackson (15-10) vs. No. 11 Skyview (17-9)

4 p.m. Saturday at BGHS

At stake: Elimination game. Winner advances to round of 12 at Tacoma Dome on March 4. Loser is done.

Squeeky Johnson is one of many Skyview players with high basketball IQ, according to coach Matt Gruhler. There are three players on the team who are sons of coaches and/or former college basketball players. Photo by Mike Schultz
Squeeky Johnson is one of many Skyview players with high basketball IQ, according to coach Matt Gruhler. There are three players on the team who are sons of coaches and/or former college basketball players. Photo by Mike Schultz

The Skyview Storm know they are good enough for the dome. No, that’s not a guarantee that they will win this game and make it to the dome. They just know they have it in them to make it there.

Skyview, after all, is one of just two teams to push Union to the edge. The Storm took Union to overtime. So should the Storm get on all cylinders, watch out.

Also, a very smart team. It is called basketball IQ.

“They make a lot of the right plays at the right time,” coach Matt Gruhler said.

The team’s top three players have been around the game since birth. Kyle Gruhler is the son’s coach. Squeeky Johnson is the son of a coach and former Oregon Duck. Jace Chatman is the son of a former BYU Cougar. 

“Our kids grew up in a gym,” the coach said. “We never get too up or too down because they’ve seen enough basketball games.”

In other words, if this team takes a lead, it does not celebrate too soon. If the team falls behind, the Storm know there is time to rally. 

“They believe. They fight together,” the coach said. “Been a fun group to coach.”

Jackson played Skyview in its first game of the year. (It was Skyview’s second game). The Storm got the win by seven points way back on Dec. 7.

Skyview all-leaguers: Kyle Gruhler (1st team); Jace Chatman (2nd team); Squeeky Johnson (2nd team)

Class 1A

No. 15 Bear Creek (14-10) vs. No. 10 La Center (17-6)

6 p.m. Saturday at BGHS

At stake: Elimination game. Winner advances to round of 12 at Yakima Valley SunDome on March 4. Loser is done.

Hunter Ecklund of La Center was recently voted the state 1A Player of the Year by the coaches association. Photo by Mike Schultz
Hunter Ecklund of La Center was recently voted the state 1A Player of the Year by the coaches association. Photo by Mike Schultz

La Center is on a three-game win streak. That might not sound like much, but it’s a pretty big deal. After losing the regular-season finale, and a share of the Trico League title, the Wildcats got hot in the district tournament to win the title. They got it done in the finals with an overtime win over Seton Catholic.

“It definitely helps our morale,” La Center coach Jeremy Ecklund said. 

The Wildcats, he noted, were struggling after the injury to Evan Norris. Winning district showed they can still get the job done.

So now La Center has some momentum out of one of the toughest leagues in the state. La Center, King’s Way Christian, and Seton Catholic, for the second year in a row, have made it to state. 

“I think we knew going in that we had a really strong league,” Ecklund said. “A lot of people knew the talent level, a lot of seniors on all three teams. I don’t think it was a shock that the three teams came out of our league to go to state.”

It does mean La Center is battle tested. Besides league, the Wildcats also went with a crazy-tough non-league schedule.

Now, it’s just time to see if it all adds up to a win Saturday to make it back to Yakima. (The Wildcats reached the state final four last year.)

One thing is certain: La Center is must-see.

“We play basketball faster than a lot of people play it,” Ecklund said. “We’re high-paced, high energy. Our style is fast, and I think it’s exciting to watch.”

Bear Creek is making its first appearance at state since 2014.

La Center all-leaguers: Hunter Ecklund (POY); Evan Norris (1st).

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About The Author

Paul Valencia joins ClarkCountyToday.com after more than two decades of newspaper experience. He became the face of high school sports coverage in Clark County during his 17 years at The Columbian. Before moving to Vancouver, Paul worked at Oregon daily newspapers in Pendleton, Roseburg, and Salem. A graduate of David Douglas High School in Portland, Paul enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving three years as a soldier/journalist. He and his wife Jenny recently celebrated their 20th anniversary. They have a son who has a passion for karate and Minecraft. Paul’s hobbies include: Watching the Raiders play football, reading about the Raiders playing football, and waiting to watch and read about the Raiders playing football.

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