MONTESANO — Montesano senior Evan Bates put himself in the right spot at the right time to create a moment he and his teammates will never forget.
Tied at 68 in overtime, Bates slashed to the basket at the precise moment teammate Sam Winter’s shot was deflected, snatching the ball out of midair and rising to score on a game-winning layup as time expired, giving Montesano a 70-68 victory over Seton Catholic in the first round of the 1A District IV Tournament.
“Our play was intended for Sam to drive and take it to the hole, and being (on the) weak side, I’d probably have a spot-up shot, maybe if it’s there,” Bates described of his clutch play. “I saw him take it to the hole and I kind of snuck in there and just got lucky and put that shot back up. That’s playoff basketball sometimes. You need to be good and you need to be lucky.”
For most of the first half, it seemed as though Montesano (13-8 overall) wouldn’t need any last-second heroics to earn an opening-round playoff victory as the Bulldogs got out to a sizable lead early on.
Using an active, disruptive defense and a breakneck pace of play, Monte led 21-14 after one quarter of play and held a 17-point lead at 37-20 after an 8-0 run capped by a Tanner Nicklas fast-break bucket.
“Our defense and using our hands has been something we’ve been working on,” Bulldogs head coach Doug Galloway said. “Defense is the big key for us. We knew they’re a good shooting team and could shoot the three. So our big goal was if they are going to shoot the three, have a hand in their face. … For the most part, we did a good job with that, especially in the first half.”
The Cougars (15-6) clawed their way back into the game in the third quarter, cutting the deficit to 46-43 on back-to-back 3-pointers to cap a 9-2 run with 3:00 left in the frame.
Seton Catholic would finally overtake Monte at the 4:09 mark of the fourth quarter when senior guard Malik Williams scored inside to give the Cougars its first lead of the game at 60-69.
The lead changed hands three more times over the final minutes of the fourth quarter, with Monte taking a two-point lead on sophomore Trace Ridgway’s steal and layup with 44 second left.
But Seton Catholic tied the game at 65 on a bucket in the paint by guard Xavian Rushing with 29 seconds remaining.
Monte held the ball for one final shot, but Winter’s long jumper was off target, sending the game into overtime.
In overtime, Monte quickly took a 67-65 lead on a Winter drive and layup.
But the lead was short-lived, however, as Rushing scored in the paint just 10 seconds later to tie the game at 67.
A Bates free throw gave Monte a 68-67 lead with 2:06 left. The score would remain that way until Rushing hit the front end of a 1-and-1 to tie the game at 68 with 35.1 seconds left.
Monte dribbled up court, then took a timeout with 17.9 seconds remaining to set up the last shot.
On the game’s final play, Winter drove the paint and attracted three Cougars defenders. Monte’s junior guard went up for a shot, but the ball was deflected by Rushing right into the hands of Bates, who had cut to the basket from his spot on the weak-side corner. The 6-foot-1 senior quickly scored at point-blank range a second before the buzzer sounded, giving Monte the thrilling 70-68 victory.
“I think that was the highest I’ve ever seen him jump,” joked Galloway about Bates’ buzzer-beater. “Sometimes the best laid plans go awry and Evan made a great play right there.”
“This is probably the last basketball game I’ll ever get to play on the Bo Griffith,” Bates said, reflectively. “It was just a very special opportunity. It’s very humbling and was a good, fun win. It felt awesome to go through.”
Monte was led by Winter, who scored 22 points on 7-for-22 shooting and 7-of-8 from the free-throw line.
As a team, the Bulldogs made 26-of-68 from the floor (38 percent) and hit 13-of-20 free throws (65 percent).
Rushing led Seton Catholic with 21 points on 9-of-16 shooting.
“I was really proud of the way the kids finished,” Galloway said. “We lost four games this year by a total of six points, so it was nice to get on the other side of one.”
The Cougars shot 37 percent from the field (26-70).
Monte advances to face No. 1 seed La Center (16-2), the second-ranked team in the 1A section.
Galloway knows facing La Center is a monumental task, but he feels his team is up for it.
“You’ve got to play good teams and beat good teams to get to where you want to be,” Galloway said.
Seton Catholic 14 12 19 20 3 — 68
Montesano 21 17 15 12 5 — 70
Top Players: Montesano — Winter (22 pts.), Ridgway (11 pts.), Nicklas (11 pts.); Seton Catholic — Rushing (21 pts.), Gabe Anderson (19 pts.).