There is a saying in sports that “speed kills,” and though that idiom is not often used in basketball, the Hoquiam Grizzlies showed how it could on Friday night.
The Grizzlies played fast, using a high-octane, up-tempo pace to roll over the Aberdeen Bobcats 67-38 in front of a packed house at Hoquiam Square Garden.
Hoquiam (14-4 overall) came out the gate on fire, opening up an 8-1 lead at the 4:30 mark of the first quarter when senior forward Justice Stankavich stole the ball then lobbed a pass to senior guard Michael Lorton Watkins for an alley-oop dunk that sent the already-energized crowd into a frenzy.
Aberdeen’s Manny Garcia and Lorton Watkins traded threes before a pair of free throws by Bobcats senior forward Baylor Ainsworth trimmed Hoquiam’s lead to 11-6 at the 3:21 mark.
But Hoquiam responded with a 10-0 run, with Lorton Watkins scoring eight-straight points to extend the Grizzlies’ lead to 21-6.
An Ainsworth three with :07 seconds on the clock cut Hoquiam’s advantage to 21-9 at the end of one quarter of play.
“We knew it was going to be a big game and anything can happen in a rivalry game,” Lorton Watkins said. “So we had to bring the energy in the beginning and we brought it.”
The Grizzlies kept the foot on the pedal in the second quarter, using their pressure defense and high-energy style of play to force Aberdeen into turnovers that were converted into points.
Hoquiam scored the first 12 points of the frame, capped by a three from senior guard Timmy Higgins to go up 33-9 with 3:10 left to go in the half.
A pair of free throws from Ainsworth temporarily stopped the bleeding and cut the deficit to 33-11 with 3:05 to go.
The two teams would trade a basket each over the final three minutes of the second quarter as Hoquiam would enter halftime with a commanding 35-13 lead.
“We’ve been really working on keeping an advantage and if you don’t have something, kick it,” Hoquiam head coach Jeff Niemi said. “I just thought we shared the ball as well as we have all year. We got some good looks off our press (defense) and once we got the ball it just seemed like whoever had it made the right play.”
Hoquiam held Aberdeen (4-12) to 10 or fewer points for the third consecutive quarter after as its defense continued to wreak havoc on the Bobcats.
Aberdeen got as close at 19 points when senior guard Kyle Miller scored on a breakaway layup to make it a 36-17 ballgame at the 5:25 mark of the third quarter.
Hoquiam charged right back with an 8-0 run and took a 44-17 lead with junior forward Aiden Butcher scored in the paint off a nifty interior bounce pass by senior center Owen McNeill with 2:16 left in the third.
A free throw by Hoquiam’s Kort Gordon put the Grizzlies up 50-20 with 41 second to go before Ainsworth scored at the buzzer to make the score 50-22 heading into the fourth quarter.
Hoquiam rested its starters for the final period, allowing its reserves to finish out the 67-38 Myrtle Street Rivalry victory.
“I talked to the team already this season about playing with those loud crowds,” Niemi said of the rivalry-game environment that resembled a district-championship game. “One of the things we talked about tonight was that I’ll say something, but you guys have to repeat it because there is no way everyone is going to hear it. … Sometimes you come out of a locker room and you look around and there is a couple thousand people there and it can freak you out a little bit, so just get used to those big crowds and just playing basketball.”
“An environment like this prepares us for big games,” Lorton Watkins said. “If we have another big crowd like this one, we’ll be ready.”
Hoquiam was led by Lorton Watkins, who continues to make the case for 1A Evergreen League MVP. The senior guard scored 21 points on 9 of 17 shooting (52.9%) to go along with five rebounds and three steals in three quarters of play.
“It felt awesome, clicking as a team,” Lorton Watkins said. “Getting the passes and dunks, the wide-open lanes, it feels good to make those easy lay-ins and not have to take tough shots. The crowd helped us to click too.”
McNeill added 11 points and five boards with Butcher scoring eight points and grabbing five rebounds in the win.
As a team, the Grizzlies went 26 of 61 from the field (42.6%), including 7 of 23 from beyond the arc (30.4%) and had 17 assists.
Aberdeen was led by Ainsworth and Miller with 13 and eight points, respectively. But the Bobcats failed to generate much offense after that as no other Aberdeen player scored more than three points in the game.
The Bobcats were 12 of 44 from the field (27.2%) and committed 30 turnovers against Hoquiam’s frenetic defense.
Hoquiam honored its 2003 team at halftime, a team Niemi was a junior on and helped guide to a 26-1 record and fourth-place finish at state.
Niemi, who helped coordinate the halftime festivities, said the honor “means a lot” not only to fans of Hoquiam hoops but also his current players.
“I told the kids before the game that I did this for a lot of reasons,” he said. “I did this to pack the house. I did this because it’s just fun. But a big reason why I did it is I wanted them to see that you can be excellent here. Excellence can be here. Pretty much every guy out there tonight has some type of profession where they are great at what they do. I truly believe that champions breed champions, and if you can learn how to be a winner, you’ll win in life and that was a big reason why I did it.”
Hoquiam has a huge league game against first-place Eatonville scheduled for 7 p.m. on Tuesday.
Aberdeen will begin its final week of the regular season with a crucial league matchup against Shelton at 7 p.m. in Shelton, with fourth place and a 2A Evergreen League playoff spot at stake.