If Willapa Valley’s mild upset of No. 7 Onalaska sent ripples through the 2B State Tournament on Wednesday, the Vikings victory on Thursday measured on the Richter scale.
Led by a smothering defense and red-hot shooting from the field, the 10th-seeded Vikings sent shockwaves throughout Veteran’s Memorial Arena with a 71-62 victory over the state’s top-ranked team, Liberty (Spangle), on Thursday in Spokane.
“I’ve got to give our kids credit,” Willapa Valley head coach Jay Pearson said after his team reached the state semis for the first time since 2005. “They battled and found a way to win.”
Similar to Wednesday’s opening-round win over Onalaska, the Vikings (20-8) used multiple defensive looks to confuse and bewilder the previously undefeated Lancers (24-1) and attacked the basket ad nauseam.
“Defense is our cornerstone and we’re doing a really good job of switching up defenses and causing confusion and it’s paying its dividends,” Pearson said of a Willapa Valley defense that held the state’s overall 10th-ranked team to just 29% from the field on 20-of-69 shooting, including a minuscule 1-for-15 (6.7%) from 3-point range.
The two teams played even for much of the first 16 minutes of the ballgame. After ending the first quarter tied up at 13, Willapa Valley took a slim 30-28 edge into the half.
Liberty opened the second half on a 7-2 run to take the lead as the Vikings struggled to score with what worked for them in the first half, according to Pearson.
“Key was in the first half of the third quarter, we ran too many quick hitters and were rushing our shots,” he said. “Once we began to dribble-weave and we ran our offense we found a way to the basket.”
Willapa Valley rallied to take a 45-42 lead heading into the final eight minutes of regulation, when the Vikings poured it on.
Led by their top two scorers, Logan Walker and Chad Flemitis, the Vikings scored 26 points in the fourth quarter to earn the 71-62 victory and become the talk of the tournament.
No. 1 seed Liberty upset by No. 10 Willapa Valley 71-62 in State 2B boys pic.twitter.com/QuLPFGAmfp— Brandon Hansen (@INDBrandon) March 6, 2020
Walker finished with a game-high 30 points to go along with 10 rebounds.
Flemitis scored 17 points and Carter Pearson added 10 for a Vikings team that shot 55% (22-40) in the game, including 6-of-13 (46.2%) from beyond the arc.
Willapa Valley also got to the free-throw line, hitting on 21-of-33 (63.6%) from the charity stripe.
The Vikings stifling defense and efficient shooting also helped to overcome a massive disadvantage on the boards. Willapa Valley was outrebounded 44-24, including an astounding 29-8 on the offensive glass.
Liberty also held an advantage in the turnover department as the Vikings committed 14 turnovers to just 10 for the Lancers.
“Their whole team is very aggressive on offensive boards and we knew going in that we’d have to keep them off the offensive boards, but that’s easier said than done,” Coach Pearson said. “They were that good at attacking the boards. … We usually rebound and shoot free throws better and I thought we were forcing the issue a bit. But in the fourth quarter, we settled in, ran our offense and found some cracks in their defense.”
Coach Pearson also noted it took a team effort to win on Thursday, as the Vikings role players stepped up in key situations. Carter Pearson buried a 3-pointer at the end of the third quarter and Tyler Adkins hit a three followed by a pull-up jumper when the Vikings found themselves down by four in the fourth quarter. Allen Deniston was noted for keeping Liberty’s Van Ricker from doing much damage on the boards in the second half.
The victory sent Willapa Valley to a date with a familiar foe in Friday’s semifinal — Life Christian Academy.
League-rival Life Christian, the tournament’s No. 5 seed, defeated No. 6 Lake Roosevelt 57-46 on Thursday and handed the Vikings two league losses this season.
But at this point of the season, Coach Pearson isn’t worried about previous head-to-head performances.
“The kids are playing great and having fun” he said. “They don’t really care who they play.”
Willapa Valley 13 17 15 26 — 71
Liberty 13 15 14 20 — 62
Willapa Valley — Walker (30 points, 10 rebounds); Flemitis (17 pts.); Pearson (10 pts., 5 assists, 3 steals); Adkins (5 pts., 2 ast., stl.); Beau Buchanan (4 pts., 4 reb., 3 blocks); Deniston (3 pts., 8 reb.); Kyen Phansisam (2 pts.)