(Brendan Carl | The Daily World) Hoquiam’s boys varsity basketball team huddles up in the dark before its takes the court against Tumwater at Hoquiam Square Garden in December.

Hoquiam boys enter regionals confident, on a winning roll

A little bit of confidence can go a long way on the basketball court and Hoquiam’s boys basketball team is enjoying that right now.

Despite a No. 16 seed out of the WIAA 1A RPI rankings and a six-hour bus ride to Cheney High School for a loser-out 1A regional contest against No. 9 Medical Lake, the Grizzlies are riding a large wave of confidence earned from big postseason wins.

On Saturday, the Grizzlies and the Cardinals will face off at 4 p.m. at Cheney High School. The winner will move to the state 1A tournament in Yakima the following weekend, while the other team will begin baseball practice.

“You have to win one, that’s our mindset,” senior forward and Evergreen 1A League MVP Jace Varner said after Friday’s District IV 1A title game against King’s Way Christian.

“It doesn’t scare us,” senior Jack Adams III said on Friday. “I think we’re happier about the RPI, because we’re going up against a No. 9 seed that won’t know what is coming. We beat La Center and King’s Way, two teams that are ahead of us (in the RPI rankings).”

The three-overtime victory in the district semifinals over La Center was a benchmark game for Hoquiam. After finishing the regular season with two rough losses to Aberdeen and Forks, the Grizzlies rolled through Seton Catholic in the opening round to meet the No. 7 RPI ranked Wildcats.

Varner scored 37 points, Adams added 29 and Hoquiam clinched its regional berth with an 89-75 triple-overtime win over La Center at Elma High School. The Wildcats forced double and triple overtime with last-second shots before the Grizzlies outlasted them.

On Friday, Hoquiam knocked off KWC, 64-61, in the district title game for its first district title since the undefeated 2004 state 2A championship team.

“We knew coming into the postseason, we all have a 0-0 record,” senior guard Jerod Steen said. “Hopefully, everyone is playing their best basketball of the season and we are. La Center testing us will do nothing but make us stronger and get us ready for tougher games down the road.

“Having experience in those tight games and knowing how to get through them will be valuable,” Steen added. “You have to stay up, stay positive, because that’s how you get wins in the postseason.”

“The test was passed when the seniors really had to play the whole game; all six of them got all of the minutes,” HHS head coach Curtis Eccles said. “Knowing that La Center had been ranked high in the polls and in the RPI, and to defeat them, that showed everyone where these kids are at. It brought a lot of confidence to this team is carried over against King’s Way Christian. We’re gelling at the right time.”

Overcoming the Wildcats in triple overtime tested the Grizzlies’ resolve and left them confident that they were on the right track. For most of the regular season, Hoquiam struggled to get on track and it was a learning experience for everyone.

However, Hoquiam’s non-league schedule featured several Class 2A (Chehalis, Black Hills, Aberdeen and Tumwater) and 3A (Kennewick) teams, which turned into RPI-hurting losses, but valuable experience on the court. Whatever struggles there were, they were mostly gone once the Evergreen 1A season began.

“Once we got into league, we formed that chemistry,” Eccles added. “The experience gained over the last two years for these guys, the three four-year seniors (Adams, Varner, Steen), especially in the postseason, has been invaluable. The other seniors with them have been together since the sixth grade. They’re ready.”

“We have a winning attitude here,” Spradlin said. “It didn’t start like we wanted. However, you want to be playing your best basketball at the end of the season and we are. We’re playing our best now.

“We’re experienced,” Spradlin added. “We went to state last year and took sixth. We won a game there. We’ve kept up with teams this year. We feel like we’re on a roll lately. We’ve beaten some very good teams and we’re playing well overall. I think just going forward, we’re going to continue to play like we have been.”

The addition of junior Victor James to the roster has also helped the Grizzlies with depth. His absence was missed against La Center, but his presence this week will add another weapon off the bench.

Scoring this season, with James in the mix, has gone up for the Grizzlies. And, this includes Adams, who is the school’s all-time career scoring leader, and Varner as the league MVP. Eccles noted that the two, along with Steen, are approaching 100 career games at Hoquiam — a feat that can only be accomplished if you play from the beginning of your career on the varsity like they have.

“There is a sense of urgency,” Steen said. “We’ve been working toward this since the sixth grade. Our goal was to go out and win a state championship. We know this could be the final time we will play together, so we’re all trying our hardest and we’re all working towards that. We think this is the year to do this. We believe we have the team necessary to do this and we’re putting in the work.”

Hoquiam will start their work trip early Friday, with a stop off at Reese Court on the campus of Eastern Washington University for a practice later in the day. Eccles, an Eastern Washington grad, arranged the practice time in between Eastern’s and Idaho State’s workouts. Then, sleep, eat and play at 4 p.m. Saturday.

“These guys know what they’re going to face (in Medical Lake),” Eccles added. “So, we’re going out there Friday, get our work in and get a good night’s rest. We did play them at Eastern’s summer camp last summer. We didn’t have all of the guys there, but we lost by two to them.”

“The road trip will be fine,” Steen added. “We’ll get to team bond, get a practice in and settle in. We’ll come fully ready.”

“We’ve played loser-out games before,” Spradlin said. “We had a district, regional and state loser-out game last year. This is nothing new. When the stakes are high, it brings out our best. Our team has always been like that.”

Rob Burns: (360) 537-3926; rburns@thedailyworld.com; Twitter: @RobRVR