Red hot. Unconscious. Lights out. On fire. In the zone.
Whatever the proverbial term used to describe a basketball shooter in the midst of an incredible display of marksmanship, Hoquiam guard Michael Lorton-Watkins was it on Friday.
The Grizzlies hot-shooting sophomore was unconscious, lights out, in the zone and then some as he scored 30 points —20 alone in a jaw-dropping second quarter performance — to lead Hoquiam to a 66-49 victory over Montesano at Bo Griffith Memorial Gymnasium in Montesano.
“When I scored my second (3-pointer) I knew I was going to keep going and score more threes,” Lorton-Watkins said after he torched the Bulldogs by hitting on 8-of-10 threes in the game, six in the Grizzlies’ 28-point second quarter that had Monte reeling against the ropes. “That was my first time hitting that many shots. … It feels great that my teammates were cheering me on and that they were happy for me.”
“In that situation, it’s simple — you let basketball players play,” Hoquiam head coach Kyle Blumberg said of his strategy when you have a player as hot as Lorton-Watkins was on Friday. “When that confidence flows from a young man, he’s playing basketball and the game is beautiful to watch. When you see a player like that just come out and take over it was wonderful.”
In a matchup of two teams that were tied atop the 1A Evergreen League with identical 4-1 league records, it was Hoquiam that took the early first-quarter lead thanks to its defense and transition offense. Leading 6-4, Hoquiam (5-3 overall, 5-1 1A Evergreen) pushed the lead to 11-4 on a three from Abe Morales followed by two free throws from Lorton-Watkins — his only points of the first quarter — with 61 seconds left in the period.
Twenty seconds later, a Hoquiam steal led to a Morales breakaway layup for a 13-4 lead.
With six seconds left in the frame, a Lorton-Watkins steal and dish led to a Gio Foster layup for a 15-4 Hoquiam lead at the end of the first period.
With just over a minute gone in the second quarter and the Grizzlies leading 17-6, Lorton-Watkins hit his first three of the game and was followed by a Morales three a minute later for a 23-6 Hoquiam lead.
After Monte’s Tyce Peterson hit a long 2-point jump shot to make it a 23-8 ballgame, Lorton-Watkins hit back-to-back threes to push Hoquiam’s lead past 20 at 29-8.
Monte’s Trace Ridgway, who returned to the lineup after missing a game with a sore knee, hit a three to make it a 29-11 game with 3:40 left in the half.
Grizzlies senior guard Dane McMillan hit a short jumper followed by a free throw a possession later to push the lead back to 20 at 32-12 with 2:18 to go.
Then Lorton-Watkins’ already impressive performance turned surreal. After hitting two foul shots with 1:34 to go, the deceptively unassuming guard scored the final nine points of the quarter on three consecutive 3-point shots, using a screen from McMillan and burying a triple from the top of the key to give Hoquiam a stunning 43-14 lead at the half.
“Mike was going crazy,” said McMillan of his teammate’s dead-eye shooting. “Every time we got the ball I told him, ‘Mike you’ve got to shoot. You are going crazy right now.’ … He was doing great so I just kept feeding it to him.”
Montesano head coach Doug Galloway was quick to credit Lorton-Watkins’ performance, but added his team has to do a better job of playing with the intensity and energy that has become synonymous with his teams.
“We played terrible in the first half,” he said, candidly. “I didn’t think we came to play and they jumped on us. They got it going and we were on our heels the whole first half.”
After the break Monte (5-3, 4-2) got the message from their head coach and began to chip away at the Hoquiam lead largely due to the play of Caydon Lovell. The junior forward relentlessly attacked the basket to score 11 of his team-high 19 points in the frame as Monte trimmed the deficit back down to 19 points.
But any momentum Monte had built heading into the fourth quarter was deflated by another big shot from Lorton-Watkins, this time on steal, layup, rebound and buzzer-beater to score five straight points to stake the Grizzlies to a 56-32 lead at the end of three quarters.
The Bulldogs outscored Hoquiam 17-10 in the fourth quarter but never got closer than 18 points as the Hoquiam — led by the calming leadership of McMillan — was able to run out the clock and preserve the 66-49 victory, the first for Hoquiam’s seniors on Monte’s home floor.
“Dane and I talked right before the third quarter and we knew (Monte) was not going to lay down and we still had to play our game,” Blumberg said. “When the pressure starts building because they are at home, they’re going to get excited, they are going to hit some shots, we’re still up by 20. Don’t let it all fall apart. … And he said ‘I got you coach,’ and that’s Dane. He played a pivotal role of finishing that game.”
“I never won on this court before so this is a great feeling. … Coach talked to me and said, ‘Hey, you’ve got to take the game over and slow it down. Just do what you do on offense and keep it going.’ And I said, ‘I got you coach,’” McMillan said of his ability to keep his team calm in the face of mounting Monte pressure. “We slowed it down and just tried to run our offense and get open looks.”
Aside from Lorton-Watkins’ 30 points, Morales added 11 points with McMillan tallying eight points for a Grizzlies team that had seven players score in the game.
“The bucket was really big for him tonight,” Galloway said of Lorton-Watkins’ stellar game. “It’s obvious he’s put some time in the game of basketball. … He’s making shots with hands up and you’ve got to credit him. He shot the ball extremely well and sometimes there is only so much you can do.”
Lovell led Monte with 19 points on 8-of-19 shooting with Ridgway (10 points) also in double figures for Montesano, which shot 1-for-15 as a team from the 3-point line.
“They played a box-and-1 (defense) and we hadn’t seen that yet,” Galloway said, adding that shooting seven percent from beyond the arc doesn’t force teams to change their defense. “You’ve got to credit their program, kids and coaching staff for coming out, being ready to play and attacking us with something we haven’t seen yet.”
The game carried weight as far as the league standings are concerned. With the win, Hoquiam takes a one-game lead over Montesano with one week left in the season. The two teams are scheduled to face each other at 7 p.m. on Monday, May 31 — the last day of the regular season — at Hoquiam Square Garden.
”It means a lot for our team that we pulled this out,” Lorton-Watkins said. “It was a big win for us and I like how our team played, offense and defense. We played great.”