CHEHALIS — Hoquiam and King’s Way Christian brought their fighting spirits to go with their perimeter and inside offense on Friday night.
In the end, the Grizzlies took the Kinghts’ best shot and secured their first District IV 1A boys basketball championship since 2004 in the process.
Using 3-point shooting to get ahead, Hoquiam traded punches to King’s Way in the paint and outlasted the Trico League co-champions at the buzzer, 64-61, in the district title game at Chehalis High School.
This weekend, Hoquiam (16-7) will learn where it will be traveling to for the regional 1A round, thanks to a No. 35 spot in the state RPI rankings.
“It doesn’t matter; we just have to win one at a time now,” HHS senior forward Jace Varner said.
“It is a testament to their experience and knowledge of playing together since they were little,” HHS head coach Curtis Eccles said of the title win. “We know now that we have to win one more next week to get to Yakima. That is OK. We just need to do it like we did it last year — win and we are in.”
King’s Way nearly put Hoquiam into its second overtime contest this week when Skyler Freeman’s 3-point shot hit the back of the rim as time expired for a dramatic finish.
Hoquiam held the lead for the final 10 1/2 minutes of the contest, but it never felt like the Evergreen 1A League champions had enough room or cushion or comfort against King’s Way. In fact, the Knights made sure of it.
Leading 45-40 entering the fourth quarter, Hoquiam senior Jerod Steen nailed his team’s ninth and final 3-pointer for a 48-40 lead. Then, both teams began trading punches — interior baskets — to try and outmuscle the other.
Jack Adams, Jace Varner and Anthony Nash brought the fight for Hoquiam, while King’s Way had its interior powers Matt Garrison and Joe Mills in the paint. All five trades baskets, hard clear-outs for rebounds and scrambling defense for the next five minutes of the game.
The back-and-forth manner of the contest, along with the rough-and-tumble work in the paint, resembled the Hoquiam-La Center semifinal game on Monday in Elma. In fact, Hoquiam learned a lot from that game to find a way against KWC.
“The (La Center) game was a check for us to see if we could perform in that pressure situation,” said Adams, who finished with 16 points and nine rebounds. “We kept battling against La Center and proved that we could do it. Tonight, we did the same thing and battled throughout. The experience and the confidence that we gained from that La Center game carried over to this game.”
“That game really boosted out confidence,” added Varner, who had 16 points and 15 rebounds. “La Center is the No. 1 team down south and winning that game in triple overtime got us to be where we needed to be.”
When the Knights’ Joe Mills and Karter Graves hit 3-point shots, which Nash followed with mid-range baskets, Hoquiam’s lead was at five (60-55) with 1:57 remaining. Nash’s inside basket was the final field goal of the game for the Grizzlies.
Then, KWC started fouling, sending Hoquiam to the free-throw line. The Grizzlies finished 4-for-8 in the final stretch, which allowed the Knights a chance to climb closer. KWC hit just 11-for-31 from behind the 3-point line in the contest and kept firing up long-range shots and pulling in fortuitous offensive rebounds to keep the Grizzlies on defense. When Hoquiam did get the rebounds, it was fouled to go to the free-throw line.
Freeman and Mills each hit treys to get the Knights closer, with Mills’ trey to within two, 63-61, with 24 seconds left. Steen hit a free throw with 19.8 seconds left at 64-61 to set up the dramatics.
On the trip down, the ball found Mills open, but his 3-point shot missed. The Knights got the offensive rebound and a timeout with 4.6 seconds left to set up the final play. There, Freeman ran the perimeter, got the ball near the left key and shot over Steen for the tying three. The missed shot triggered the final buzzer, setting off Hoquiam’s celebration.
“It is surreal, but at the same time, I knew these kids had it in them to do this,” Eccles said. “To win the district title, the first one since 2004, it is just a fantastic feeling.”
KWC 10 17 13 21 — 61 Hoquiam 13 19 13 19 — 64
King’s Way Christian (61) — Pulicella 5, Jarvi 2, Graves 6, Mills 14, Bryant 6, Garrison 12, Jones, Freeman 16. FG — 22-56. FT — 6-13.
Hoquiam (64) — Spradlin 9, Espedal, Nash 11, Steen 8, Adams III 16, James 4, Varner 16. FG — 22-49.