“It was definitely one of the strangest basketball games I’ve been a part of,” Rogers boys basketball coach Tim Wood said.
At the same time, the Pirates’ victory over West Valley-Yakima last weekend in the 3A regional semifinals was one of the most exciting, Wood said.
“One thing about us – we’ve been fun to watch the last month, win or lose,” Wood said.
The fun continues at 8:15 p.m. Friday at Hanford High in Richland, when the Pirates face fellow Greater Spokane League team Shadle Park for the regional championship and a berth to next week’s State 3A tournament in Tacoma.
“They’re playing well right now,” Highlanders coach Tim Gaebe said of the Pirates. “I’m sure we’ve got their full attention. They’re pretty fired up right now. It’s kind of uncharted waters for them.”
Shadle (19-4) is coming off a State 4A appearance a year ago with all but two players returning. The school has a rich state tradition.
The last time the Pirates (11-13) were in this position was 1978 when state was part of a 16-team regionalized process. They placed fifth in 1975 in their fourth official state tourney in school history.
“Most people under 40 don’t have any idea,” Wood said. “It was a long time ago.”
Both teams have two chances this weekend, each needing one win to clinch one of the Eastern region’s two state berths.
Last week’s win by Rogers over the Rams went down to the final second. The high-powered Pirates had scored 40 first-half points to lead by seven at intermission. The Rams tied the game through three quarters and led late in the game.
The final stages were a blur that included a long, banked 3-pointer by Zach Nelson inside 20 seconds for a one-point lead and the final, nearly incomprehensible, conclusion.
Jesse Vaughan blocked a shot by Rams star Matt Borton and Nelson rebounded. Borton took umbrage and was tagged with a technical foul.
Vaughan made 1 of 2 free throws to put Rogers up by a basket with less than a second left. Then Borton tried to draw a foul and tangled with Vaughan. Following a discussion, officials called a technical on Vaughan, who finished with 24 points. Nelson and Pat McCabe were also in double figures.
“The game got a little dicey and very emotional,” Wood said. “My guy went to clear his hands and their kid up and flops. It was a good player trying to draw a foul.”
Fortunately for Rogers, it didn’t decide the game. Borton, who scored 26 points, made just one free throw and Rogers stole the ensuing inbounds pass. “Anything can happen now,” Wood said. “If we play an almost perfect game, we can win. People in the community are excited. We’re very excited.”
Shadle was a game away from placing in state last year and is one of the top teams in a loaded 3A class this season.
“We’re playing pretty good basketball ourselves,” said Gaebe, who won the district championship and has a balanced team, led by WSU-bound Anthony Brown.
“We have kids who have been (to state) with experience. We needed to take care of Mt. Spokane in a slowdown game, and North Central, which I thought was a really good team. Fortunately, we prevailed in both.”
Shadle beat Sunnyside 60-45 in the regional, with Brown, Matt Barnes and Taylor Pettersen all scoring in double figures. Rogers is next.
“They’re riding high,” Gaebe said. “We’re not only dealing with a good team, but with the whole community now.”
Shadle coach Chad Dezellem doesn’t look ahead, merely at the task at hand.
“We try not to count any chickens before they start to hatch,” he said. “I don’t worry about stuff until the next game we’re playing.”
That game comes against West Valley-Yakima on Friday with a trip to the State 3A tournament as the prize.
“West Valley is a good team with tradition,” Dezellem said. “They have a good post, strong guards and are well-rounded. It will be a good challenge for us.”
The Rams press and play man-to-man defense, he said. They run continuity and set-play offenses Shadle (18-5) will counter with a mixture of man and zone defenses and balanced offense.
No Highlander averaged in double figures this year, although several are capable.
Fourth-year senior Lindsey Niemeier averaged 9.5 for the regular season, Chelsea Chandler 9.1.
“I prefer it that way,” Dezellem said of the manner scoring was spread among several all year. “It’s a nice luxury to have and the key to winning.”
Shadle finished third in the GSL and won district. Both Niemeier and Chandler were in double figures and Bianca Pope scored 18 during a 62-40 win over Hanford in the first round of regional. The Highlanders have two chances for one win and a trip to state.
“We’re deeper than we’ve been,” Dezellem said. “I’m confident in the kids and have a lot of faith in them.”
Regional surprise North Central (3-21), which lost 48-37 to WV-Yakima after upsetting East Valley, faces Hanford at 3 p.m. Friday, needing two wins this weekend to reach state.