Montesano admittedly did not have the start to the 1A District 4 Tournament it had hoped for.
They more than made up for it Tuesday night.
Montesano found another gear in a 16-3 third-quarter run to open up a 20-point lead en route to a 71-43 victory over Elma at the Bo Griffith Memorial Gymnasium in Montesano.
Playing with a high-speed intensity and energy that has become a staple of the current iteration of the Bulldogs, Montesano (16-6 overall) turned a nine-point halftime lead into a 50-28 advantage with a little over five minutes elapsed in the third quarter.
“It was definitely our defense,” said Montesano senior guard Carter Olsen when asked what was the key to Monte’s third-quarter blitz. “It started everything. We’ve been practicing it all week. It’s been a little slower (recently), so we’ve been working on that and I think that led to some easy buckets.”
It took a bit of time for Monte’s engines to rev up as the Bulldogs found themselves down 14-8 midway through the first quarter after Elma (10-12) got 3-pointers from Sawyer Witt and Nick Church early on followed by a jumper from Brady Johnston.
Monte responded to take a 17-15 lead at the end of the period and began to find its groove in the second quarter, stretching out to as much as a 12-point lead at 32-20 on a Trace Ridgway jump shot.
Johnston scored on a layup with just seconds to spare to cut Monte’s lead to 34-25 at the break.
Little did Elma know, that was as close as it would get the rest of the way as Monte turned on the jets after the break, on both offense and defense.
“We wanted to bring energy,” Montesano head coach Doug Galloway said of his team’s third-quarter run. “I felt in that third quarter, we started getting hands on a few more balls and I thought we were moving and anticipating in our press and our zone. And sometimes you get lucky. You get some hands on things, get some tips and the kids made some great plays.”
Olsen, who started the run with a jumper to open the half, capped the run when he hit a pull-up jumper with 2:53 left in the quarter.
Church scored on a drive an layup to momentarily stop the run and pull Elma within a baker’s dozen a 50-30 with 2:38 to go.
But Olsen, who was on fire at this point hit another jump shot to give Monte a 52-30 lead at the 2:13 mark.
After the two teams traded baskets, Monte’s Ben Wills scored and was fouled and —after Church converted 1-of-2 free throws —Olsen closed out the quarter on a running one-hander to beat the buzzer and give Monte a commanding 59-33 lead at the end of the third.
“(Monte) seemed to have another level that we haven’t seen,” Elma head coach Jeff Niemi said. “Their pressure is pretty darn good to begin with and then they seemingly brought another level.”
The Bulldogs were able to cruise to victory after that, holding as much as a 67-34 lead in the fourth quarter before closing out the 71-43 win.
“Us seniors thought it was our last game at the Bo, so we wanted to come out strong, make a defensive stand and show ‘em who’s boss around here,” Olsen said. “And we came out (of halftime) with a huge run.”
Olsen led Monte with 20 points.
Wills and Ridgway added nine each for Montesano, which advances to face last season’s state-runner up, King’s Way Christian, in an elimination game at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday at Castle Rock High School.
Elma was led by Johnston’s 12 points.
Church and Raiden Aho scored seven apiece for Elma, which had a nine-game improvement over last season and should return nine roster players while losing three seniors (Aho, Josiah Jones-Wyeth and Jaedyn Edenstrom) to graduation.
“At the end of the day, it’s still a great season from where we’ve been to where we are,” Niemi said. “We reached some goals: Double-digit wins, top two in league —which we tied for. We talked a lot about building blocks and we have some building blocks in place. We just have to keep working to make that next jump to not just compete but win. We told the kids to be proud of this season.”