VANCOUVER — It didn’t take the Union Titans long to get up to the speed of high school playoff basketball.
Union opened the boys Class 4A bi-district tournament with a lopsided 72-48 victory over Olympia Thursday at Union High School. The victory improves the Titans’ season record to 16-3 and sends them into a winner-to-state, bi-district tournament quarterfinals matchup with Bellarmine Prep (13-7) Saturday at Mount Tahoma High School in Tacoma.
“I was very pleased with the focus and intensity that we came out with and maintained throughout the game on both the offensive and defensive end,’’ said Union coach Blake Conley. “We talked about hitting that ‘playoff gear’ and I thought we did that.’’
Cameron Cranston, a 6-foot-6 guard/forward who has served as Union’s “go-to guy’’ the last two seasons, and junior guard Zach Reznick each scored 23 points to lead the Titans, who ran out to a 23-13 lead after the first quarter of play.
“We made the easy play early on,’’ Conley said. “Something we have been focusing on is just making the right play at the right time. Cameron was open early and we found him in the right spots. We also limited Olympia to one shot on offense.’’
After leading 36-25 at halftime, Union pulled away in the third quarter, outscoring Olympia 24-9 in the period to firmly take control of the game, leading 60-34 heading into the final eight minutes of play.
“They hit some tough contested shots,’’ Conley said, referring to Olympia’s second-quarter comeback that got them within five points of the Titans at one point. “Some of those are going to fall but we knew as long as we contested them, we would come out in a good position.’’
Despite the fact that Cranston has been the area’s standout player over the past two seasons, Union has been very much a balanced team, and that was once again the case in the victory over Olympia.
“We have players who have bought into making the extra pass and not caring about who gets the credit as well as embracing each of their roles as valuable and important,’’ Conley said. “This has been a staple at Union since it started and this team has embraced that.’’
Union heads into Saturday’s game ranked No. 1 in the WIAA’s Class 4A RPI rankings. A big reason why that is the case is the Titans’ roster is littered with players who have provided key contributions to Union’s success this season.
“Keithen Shepard is the best defensive player who I have ever coached,’’ said Conley of his 5-11 senior guard. “He is not just athletic but smart and mentally tough.
“Cameron Cranston has evolved his game and leadership this year,’’ Conley added. “He scores, but is also our leading rebounder and has really stepped up as a second coach on the floor.
“Zach Reznick has dramatically improved since last season,’’ Conley said. “He is fearless and although he is a great shooter, he also takes care of the ball very well and has really improved as a defender.’’
“Tyler Combs does a great job of running the team,’’ Conley said of the 5-11 junior guard. “We’ve had games where Tyler has been our leading scorer but he has a high basketball IQ so he is able to take what the defense gives him.’’
“Kai Gamble (6-4 senior forward), Austin Lewis (6-3 senior forward), Cole Susee (6-5 senior forward), and Jason Franklin Jr. (6-4 junior forward) have been great in playing our big man role,’’ Conley added. “All of them have different skills and talents and they are selfless, team players so they are always ready and have team-first attitudes.’’
Other members of the Union roster include sophomores Houston Combs and Jalen Brown, juniors Quinn Lamey and Alden Nellor and senior Justin Ongley.
Union can earn a return trip to the 4A state tourney with a win Saturday. A loss would mean the Titans would have to battle back through the consolation bracket of the bi-district tournament to earn a trip to state. Union finished fourth at last year’s state tourney and the Titans were third in 2015.