Entering Saturday’s 1B State tournament opening-round game, some prep hoops prognosticators across the state were predicting the Vikings would be on the wrong end of a loss to No. 5 Moses Lake Christian-Covenant Christian.
But behind a stalwart defensive effort in the second half, the Vikings proved those pundits wrong.
Willapa Valley (19-5 overall) held the fifth-seeded Lions (14-3) to three points in the third quarter en route to a 48-34 win on Saturday at Tumwater High School, advancing to the state quarterfinals in the process.
“When you have nights like how we shot tonight, that’s why you play defense,” Valley head coach Jay Pearson quipped. “Defense and rebounds. We really hit that at halftime. For some reason, we played really tight, almost reminded me as if we were in mid-season form. … But what won it was defense and rebounding.”
“We ramped up the defense and intensity,” Valley senior guard Riley Pearson said. “We were using pump-fakes and shots started to fall. … (Coach) said they are going for every swat, trying to make the fancy play. So we just do the fundamentals: Pump-fake to get them in the air and go up and make the lay-in.”
Leading by just two points at 21-19 after MLCC outscored the Vikings 13-8 in the second quarter, Willapa Valley scored the first nine points of the third frame, keyed by the play of senior forward Garrett Keeton, who scored three points and drew three fouls in the run.
After MLCC’s Johan Robertson scored to temporarily halt the Vikings streak at 28-22 with a basket and a free throw, Keeton’s keen inside passing led to two Vikings buckets – one by senior guard Kolten Fluke followed by a field goal from senior forward Derek Fluke – to go up 32-22 with 21 seconds left in the period.
The Vikings would hold the double-digit lead throughout the fourth quarter, aside from a Lions free throw by senior guard Jeff Boorman cutting the Vikings lead to 39-30 with 2:51 left in the game.
Vikings senior Riley Pearson followed with two free throws and put the game away with a dagger 3-pointer to go up 44-30 with 1:25 to go.
“It felt awesome,” he said after missing his first eight 3-point attempts in the game. “My teammates and coach had confidence in me, telling me to keep shooting and eventually it will fall, and it did when we needed it.”
“Shooters shoot. You gotta shoot and I don’t think he ever shot that poorly,” said Coach Pearson of his star guard, who went a perfect 8 for 8 from the free-throw line. “When he’s shooting outside and not making them, that when we said he had to get to the line, you’re too good of a shooter. … The reason you keep shooting is you hit a big three at the end too.”
Derek Fluke led the Vikings with 13 points and a game-high 17 rebounds.
Pearson added 11 points while senior Kolten Fluke scored 10 points, grabbed five rebounds and held the high-scoring Boorman to nine points.
The Vikings went 16 of 52 from the field (31%) and got to the charity stripe 26 times, hitting on 15 attempts (58%).
Senior Wil Clements scored nine points despite being in foul trouble while Keeton scored three points, grabbed 10 rebounds and had six of Willapa Valley’s seven assists in the game.
“I knew one thing was that we were going to battle and play hard for four quarters,” Coach Pearson said. “I don’t think anyone is going to outwork us. I think that helped, (MLCC) got tired.”
With the win, Willapa Valley avoids playing a second-round elimination game and skips ahead to the state quarterfinals, where it will face the winner of No. 11 Mossyrock versus No. 6 Lummi Nation at 3:45 p.m. Thursday in Spokane.
Moses Lake-Covenant Chr. 6 13 3 12 — 34
Willapa Valley 13 8 11 16 – 48
Scoring: MLCC – Boorman 9, Jo. Robertson 7, Podolyan 6, Jones 6, Ja. Robertson 3, D. Gulekno 3.
Seattle Academy 71, Elma 56
Elma was unable to overcome a slow start en route to a 71-56 season-ending loss in a 1A State first-round playoff game to Seattle Academy on Saturday in Bellevue.
The 13th-seeded Eagles (13-11) fell into an early 7-0 hole and trailed 21-9 after starting “extremely slow and played tentative,” according to Eagles head coach Matt Ferrier.
That trend continued in the second quarter as the Eagles faced a 46-25 deficit at the half.
“Playing a perennial state private school that way is a bad idea,” Ferrier said. “They drew first blood, sensed the fear and poured it on in the first half. We couldn’t get to the break soon enough.”
The Eagles trimmed the No. 10 Cardinals’ lead to 13 points after a third-quarter run and were within seven points late in the fourth quarter.
Seattle Academy (14-9) held on by making free throws down the stretch as Elma was forced to foul late in the game, leading to the end of Elma’s impressive playoff run.
Sophomore guard Traden Carter led Elma with 22 points on 7-of-15 shooting (47%) to go along with seven rebounds.
Elma junior Cason Seaberg added 14 points and three steals for the Eagles, which shot 45% from the field on 19-of-42 shooting.
“What an incredible run we had over the last month. From dropping four games in a row in mid-January to making a state tourney is very rewarding, especially for the boys,” Ferrier said. “They are disappointed now but will one day realize what they did for Elma basketball and the Elma community. They put Elma boys basketball back on the state map. It has been erased for the last 21 years, not anymore. Expectations are that we are heading back in 2024 and the work starts now.”
Elma loses three seniors in starting forward Gibson Cain (7 points, 3 rebounds, steal), Kyren Hackney and Logan Skeem.
“Being their coach the last two years has been a great ride. We are going to miss them,” said Ferrier, who also thanked assistant coaches Carter Avery and Jason Olsen.
Elma 9 16 14 17 – 56
Seattle Academy 21 25 6 19 – 71
Scoring: Elma – Carter 22, Seaberg 14, Holmes 7, Cain 7, Studer 4, Flores 2. Seattle Academy – n/a.