ELMA — Even after enduring a dismal start and the vagaries of roller-coaster overtime periods, Hoquiam’s boys would not be denied a return trip to regionals.
Jace Varner scored 37 points and Jack Adams III added 29 as the Grizzlies outlasted La Center in triple overtime, 89-75, in a District IV Class 1A boys basketball semifinal on Monday night at Elma.
Stevenson came from behind in the second half to eliminate Elma, 55-44, in the first half of the doubleheader.
Hoquiam (15-7) will face King’s Way Christian for the district championship at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Chehalis.
As importantly, the Grizzlies clinched a berth in next week’s regionals — although, as the 35th-ranked team in the state’s final RPI listings (26 places lower than La Center), they will be forced to win a loser-out regional contest to book a second consecutive trip to state. Hoquiam earned a sixth-place state trophy last year.
Elma concluded its season at 4-16.
Grizzlies 89, Wildcats 75, 3 OT
Short-handed due to the absence of junior wing Victor James, sidelined with a knee injury, Hoquiam received a herculean effort from Varner. In addition to his career-high scoring total, the 6-foot-2 senior post amassed 20 rebounds, five steals and three assists.
Although struggling with his perimeter shot, senior guard Jack Adams III added 29 points and 13 rebounds as the smaller Grizzlies owned a surprising 57-44 rebounding advantage.
Outscored drastically from the field, the Grizzlies won it with what almost certainly was a school-record performance from the foul line. They connected on 38 of 52 free throws — hitting all 12 of their attempts in the third overtime.
La Center was only 12-of-18 from the stripe, a disparity duly noted by disgruntled Wildcat supporters.
Foul shooting was all that kept the Grizzlies afloat in a first half in which they shot barely 20 percent from the field. Surrendering the game’s opening seven points and trailing by as many as 13 in the second quarter, they trimmed the deficit to four (27-23) at intermission.
“We really wanted it,” Varner said. “I have no idea what happened. We came in at halftime and something clicked.”
Although attacking the basket more frequently and slowing down the Wildcats by switching to a 2-3 zone, the Grizzlies didn’t muster their first lead until the 4:39 mark of the fourth quarter.
With Varner scoring 11 points in that period, they were up 53-48 with 1:48 remaining in regulation. But some rare HHS foul-line misses gave La Center (14-4) an opening and the Wildcats tied it at 54 when Hunter Ecklund converted a pair of free throws in the final 10 seconds.
Neither team led by more than two points in the first overtime. After Varner’s two foul shots gave Hoquiam a 62-60 edge with 35 seconds on the clock, La Center’s Avery Seter drove for a tying layin 11 seconds later.
The second OT featured some drastic momentum shifts and even a scoring discrepancy that caused a brief delay. That was eventually resolved with the correct margin (a one-point Hoquiam lead) restored, although in the confusion each team was erroneously credited with an additional point.
Hoquiam appeared to have this won when Adams capped a 9-2 Hoquiam run by making one of two free throws for a 72-67 lead with only 27 seconds left.
La Center reserve Jackson Leslie, scoreless until then, nailed a deep 3-pointer from the right wing at 0:17 and the Wildcats got the ball back by knocking a loose ball off a Grizzly’s leg out of bounds. The speedy Ecklund then put down an off-balance layin at the buzzer to force overtime No. 3.
This time Hoquiam never trailed. Anthony Nash sandwiched four foul shots around a bucket around a basket by La Center’s Joe Bork to give the Grizzlies a permanent lead at (officially) 77-75. La Center ace Jake Wise, in foul trouble most of the night, had fouled out in the second OT and the Wildcats had no answer when Varner and Adams combined for the game’s final 12 points.
“We had a lot of opportunities to end the game earlier,” a relieved HHS coach Curtis Eccles said. “But I can’t say enough of how proud I am of these boys, particularly the seniors, for being able to finish.”
Jerod Steen had five steals and Zach Spradlin four assists for the Grizzlies.
Ecklund topped La Center with 27 points.
Bulldogs 55, Eagles 44
With Avery Brown scoring 11 points and his teammates having a hand in 18 Stevenson turnovers, Elma led 23-19 at the half.
The Eagles, however, had committed 13 turnovers of their own in that half. Their inability to pad their lead proved crucial when the Bulldogs improved their offensive efficiency in the second half.
Stevenson’s Austin Brannan, who entered the game averaging more than 23 points per contest, buried a trio of 3-pointers in scoring 12 points in the third quarter alone. The Bulldogs took a 38-30 lead into the fourth quarter and were never threatened.
“If we hadn’t had that many turnovers (in the first half), that could have easily been a 12-16-point (lead) at halftime,” Elma coach Marvin Prince said. “In the second half, we didn’t turn it over as much but we didn’t attack the basket as much. We got passive on the offensive end.”
Brannan led all scorers with 27 points.
Brown topped the Eagles with 16 points. Guard Sohtye Tep, one of six Elma seniors closing out their prep careers, scored eight of his 10 points in the second half.
Trace Thompson, one of Elma’s leading scorers, missed the final four games with a broken elbow.
“In all of the years I’ve coached, this team (consists) of some of the most enjoyable young men I’ve had,” Prince concluded. “Every day, they came to work. For these kids to stick with it every day says a lot about them.”
Prince thanked his assistant coaches Ken Witt and Carson Seaberg for their work this season.
La Center 18 9 10 17 8 11 2 — 75 Hoquiam 9 14 11 20 8 11 16 — 89
La Center (75) — Eastman 5, Wise 15, Seter 13, Baher 7, Ecklund 27, Bork 4, Leslie 3, Weaver. FG — 28-76 (.368). FT — 12-18.
Hoquiam (89) — Spradlin 5, Nash 9, Steen 6, Adams 29, Varner 37, Espedal 2, Folkers. FG — 23-71 (.324). FT — 38-52.
Stevenson 11 8 19 17 — 55 Elma 9 14 7 14 — 44
Stevenson (55) —Fielding, Brannan 27, Hoidal 3, Delarosa 4, Campbell 4, Lanz, Nichols 11, Krog 2, Pearson 4, Hansen. FG — 20-45 (.444). FT — 10-13.
Elma (44) — A.J. Brown 8, Tep 10, Vollen 4, Spalding 2, Avery Brown 16, Peterson 4, Schneider, Acuff. FG — 16-46 (.348). FT — 8-15.