CHEHALIS — For the first 12 minutes of the game, the Willapa Valley Vikings were neck-and-neck with the No. 2 2B team in the state, the Toledo Indians.
Then Toledo showed why their ranking is well-deserved, holding the Vikings to a season-low in points while draining 10 3-pointers to hand Willapa Valley a 58-37 loss in the 2B District IV championship game on Saturday at WF West High School.
“Give Toledo credit. They are a fine ball club,” a mildly-hoarse Willapa Valley head coach Jay Pearson said. “Their (defensive) speed, and particularly their height, really took (Willapa Valley’s top scorers) Matt (Pearson) and Logan (Walker) out and we didn’t have an answer for it.”
A little over 24 hours removed from a thrilling yet emotionally-draining win over Life Christian in the semifinals, the Vikings were locked in a defensive struggle early in the contest and held a 16-14 lead midway through the first half.
But Toledo, which won its semifinal match 42-35 over Kalama on Friday, tied the game on a Bryce Marcil bucket in the paint at 2:55 of the second quarter followed by a three from Fano Arceo-Hansen 46 seconds later. Toledo (21-2 overall) ended the half on an 11-2 run to take a 27-18 lead into the break.
The halftime rest did little to cool off the Indians in the second half, as Toledo kept hitting shots from range. Led by senior guard Andreas Malunat, who hit five second-half threes and scored a game-high 22 points, Toledo extended its margin to as much as 23 points with just under five minutes to play in the fourth quarter.
Toledo head coach Grady Fallon said he was so focussed on managing the game that at first he didn’t realize how swollen the lead had grown.
“I’m micro-managing every play and looking at stuff, … we make a play and I’m worried about defense right away and I look up (at the scoreboard) and realized we had a 20-point lead,” he said. “I thought, “Oh my gosh, we could win this.”
Fallon said the big shots made by Malunat were central to building the advantage.
“Andreas made some big shots. Probably ones you wouldn’t want anybody else to take but him,” he said.
Toledo made another run to end the third quarter with 3-pointers by Malunat, 2B Central League MVP Fano Arceo-Hansen and Marcil to take a 42-24 lead into the fourth period.
Willapa Valley, meanwhile, had no solution to the riddle of solving the Indians’ defense, which allowed more than 50 points just once in its past nine contests. The Vikings (19-5) were outscored 42-11 combined in the second and third quarters.
Though he admitted his team was tired after Friday’s semifinal win, Coach Pearson didn’t blame the loss on fatigue.
“On the way up to this game, they were all sleeping,” Pearson said of the bus ride to the title-game site. “But I think their hot shooting and they always play defense. One of the things I heard about them is that they have trouble scoring points. Tonight, they were hitting their shots. … We didn’t have the continuity and mental focus. But once again, they’re just a heck of a team and our hats off to them.”
Matt Pearson and Walker, who entered the game averaging a combined 32.2 points-per-game this season, were held to six and nine points, respectively, against Toledo’s stout defense.
Willapa Valley’s focus now shifts to the upcoming 2B Regional Playoffs, which begin on Feb. 22, five days ahead of the subsequent state tournament.
Coach Pearson expects to learn Willapa Valley’s seed and regional opponent at noon on Tuesday.
“We told our kids, ‘Don’t hang your head at all.’” he said. “That’s basketball, sometimes you come out flat and tired, which we did, and in the second half, the better team won. But tomorrow is a new game. … Now it’s state, and we’ll be ready.”
After an impressive tournament run to the district final, Coach Pearson took a moment to reflect on what coaching this specific Willapa Valley team has meant to him.
“It has been one of he best times of my life in coaching basketball,” he said. “You got great kids, they like each other and know their roles. … It was great to see them peak at the right time and go through the district tournament. … We like what we saw this tournament and its a very good springboard going into the state tournament.”
1A District IV Consolation Final
Seton Catholic 74, Montesano 48
A hot-shooting Seton Catholic team ended Montesano’s hopes for a regional playoff berth as the Bulldogs lost 74-48 on Saturday in Kelso, ending their season.
The Bulldogs (14-10) got off to a slow start offensively while the Cougars (15-8) wasted no time building a lead, hitting their first three 3-point attempts to kickstart an 11-1 run to open the game.
Monte struggled to get shots to fall from anywhere on the court and trailed 39-20 by halftime.
Sam Winter was one of the few Bulldogs able to score against the Cougars defense and led Monte with 19 points.
Winter’s offensive performance wasn’t enough to counter the Cougars’ scoring as Seton Catholic shot 12-for-22 from beyond the arc.
Montesano head coach Doug Galloway thanked his seniors for laying the foundation that the younger payers can build on heading into next season.
“I was very proud of my seniors. They’ve been great leaders and great teammates,” he said. “Those kids helped lay the building blocks for years to come. This one hurts, but if you’re asking me to look ahead, I’m excited about next year.”
— Hasani Grayson, Grays Harbor News Group