A team can only suffer so many losses before they take a toll.
That toll was due for the Willapa Valley boys basketball team in the 1B District 4 Championship game on Tuesday, and the Vikings came up short-changed.
With a banged-up starting guard and missing their big-man in the middle, the Vikings lacked the manpower to keep up with Naselle, losing 66-51 in the title game at Oakville High School.
The Vikings (11-5 overall) split the season-series with the Comets (14-1-1), handing Naselle its only loss of the season back on June 1.
But that iteration of the Vikings looked very different from the one that stepped on the court in Tuesday’s title game.
The Vikings were without 6-foot-6 senior center and rim-guardian Beau Buchanan, who had previously scheduled duties related to his Marine Corps service and was unable to attend the game.
Further compounding matters for Willapa Valley was starting guard Tyler Adkins being less than 100% after suffering an ankle sprain that kept him out of most of the second half in Monday’s playoff victory over Mossyrock.
The Comets took advantage of Willapa Valley’s misfortune from the get-go.
Naselle opened the game hot, dominating in every facet to jump out to a 14-2 lead with just over five minutes elapsed in the first quarter.
The Comets continued to pour it on in the second quarter, taking a 23-7 lead on a Colby Glenn three at the 5:45 mark.
Willapa Valley began to show signs of life, battling back to trim the lead to 10 on two separate occasions, the latter at 28-18 on a Riley Pearson three with 1:35 to go until halftime.
But each time Willapa Valley attempted to break Naselle’s double-digit lead, the Comets had a response.
Pearson’s three was immediately followed by a three from Warren Wirkkala and Naselle took a 33-20 lead into the break.
The second half proved to be more of the same, with Willapa Valley struggling from the floor, on the glass and in protecting the basketball.
The Comets extended the lead to 18 at 43-25 on a dagger 3-pointer from Wirkkala with 3:30 left in the third quarter and closed out the frame on a three from Jason Harmon for a commanding 51-32 lead heading to the fourth.
Willapa Valley cut into the lead by scoring the first five points of the fourth on an offensive rebound and putback by Garett Keeton followed by a fist-pumping 3-pointer from senior Joseph Pulsipher.
Yet again, Naselle responded, this time by going on a 7-0 run, capped by a three from Jimmy Strange to stretch the lead to the largest of the game at 58-37 with 3:45 left.
With just under a minute left and Naselle up 64-49, both teams called their seniors off the court for one last round of applause from school faithful as Naselle took the championship by the score of 66-51.
“When we beat them at Willapa Valley, we controlled the inside and the boards. Tonight we didn’t,” Willapa Valley head coach Jay Pearson said. “We missed Beau because that size advantage really hurts (Naselle) and we didn’t have him tonight. … They shot very well and we didn’t have a hand in their face.”
Willapa Valley entered the season already down a top scorer in senior Logan Walker, who took advantage of college eligibility rules to play for Grays Harbor College this season.
Without Walker, Buchanan and Adkins operating at approximately three-quarters capacity, the Vikings lacked the scoring and defensive capabilities that saw them send shock waves through the 2020 2B State Tournament.
“That’s three of our leading scorers gone,” Coach Pearson said. “However, these kids never gave up. They battled, but they didn’t shoot well. … I’m looking forward to this junior and sophomore group returning next year.”
Willapa Valley shot 19-for-55 (35%) from the field, including 8-for-30 (27%) from 3-point range.
Naselle also hit 19 field goals in the game, but did so in just 48 shots (40%). The Comets went 9-for-19 (31%) from the 3-point line and took advantage of the foul-prone Vikings by converting 17-of-21 (81%) of their free throws.
Glenn led all scorers with 26 points, including 12-of-14 from the charity stripe.
Harmon (15 points) and Wirkkala (12 pts.) also scored in double figures for the Comets, which collected 35 rebounds without Buchanan’s presence in the middle and committed just four turnovers in the game.
Riley Pearson was the only Viking in double-digits with 11 points as the sophomore guard hit three 3-point shots in the game.
Pulsipher scored nine points with Gavin Hampton and Derek Fluke adding seven each for the Vikings, which turned the ball over 16 times as a team.
Despite not finishing the season the way he had hoped, Coach Pearson is excited for next year with the nucleus of talented juniors and sophomores on the current roster that he said showed consistent improvement this season.
“By far, this is one of the most improved teams I’ve coached, from the beginning to the end of the season,” he said. “We’ve always had a theory of ‘next guy up’ and boy, they responded.”