In one corner this afternoon will be the Colfax Bulldogs, who last played in a State B final in 1947. They won.
In the other corner will be the Northwest Christian Crusaders, whose last appearance was a bit more recent. As in last year. The Crusaders won.
That matchup of Bi-County League powers in the boys State 2B title game was set up Friday night, when the Bulldogs flustered Toutle Lake early, then survived their composure loss in a 58-44 victory in the first Spokane Arena semifinal.
Northwest Christian had its moments of control loss as well, but most of them came early. When the Crusaders took care of the ball, they handled Adna quite easily, putting together a 15-1 second-half run to put away the Pirates 57-39.
The Bulldogs’ lack of State B history is a bit misleading. Colfax, the Whitman County seat, grew and the high school grew with it. The girls programs have been 1A powers for years before dropping down to 2B a couple of years ago.
The boys were back-to-back 1A titlists in 1978 and 1979. Since then, not much.
“It’s special,” said Colfax junior Brandon Gfeller, the 6-foot-3 point guard who towered over Toutle Lake to the tune of 17 points and eight rebounds. “We’ve been busting our butts every single day in practice. Coach said if we keep working hard we can go out there and get that gold ball.”
Standing in the way is a familiar foe.
“It is what it is,” said NWC junior guard Dakota Winward, who led the Crusaders with 17 points Friday. “We’re just going to go out and want it and play hard.”
The Bulldogs (21-5) and NWC have played three times before, with the Crusaders (26-1) winning the first two and Colfax the district matchup.
“They have tremendous size,” coach Reece Jenkin said of the Crusaders. “We’re going to have to do a heck of a job tomorrow keeping guys off the glass.”
The Bulldogs punched their ticket with a dominating first half, keyed by Tyler Stevenson’s outside shooting (he finished with 14 points) and Justin Berarducci’s inside strength (he added 14 points and eight rebounds).
An efficient offense and a stifling defense allowed the Bulldogs to build a 27-11 halftime lead, one they expanded to 40-20 with 4 minutes, 35 seconds left in the third quarter.
But that’s when things changed.
The Ducks, behind Jeremy Fuller (13 points) and Zack Hayes (11) started to force turnovers – Colfax had 12 overall – and went on a 17-5 run.
The 20-point lead shrank to eight and the Ducks (21-5) still had some time left – about 4 minutes.
As time ran down on the shot clock, Gfeller found himself guarded by 6-1 Zack Hayes. The Bulldogs ran a 1-4 set, isolating Gfeller at the top of the key and he took two hard dribbles, rose up and buried a 22-footer over Hayes.
The lead was back to 11 and, after two empty Ducks possessions, the Bulldogs could breathe again.
“It was one of those moments when you’re feeling it,” Gfeller said. “You take that step and it’s, ‘OK, this one’s going up, knock it down.’ ”
Gfeller knocked down most of his shots – hitting 6 of his 10 attempts – but the same couldn’t be said of his teammates, who combined to drain just 13 of 35 attempts.
But those struggles pale in comparison to the problems Toutle Lake had trying to solve the puzzling Colfax man-to-man.
The Ducks had just four field goals in the first half – on 23 attempts – and finished the night 14 of 51 from the floor, 4 of 21 from beyond the arc.
“Defense has been our strength all year and we’ve been able to rely on it,” Jenkin said. “They have some guys that are players, that really take the ball hard to the basket.”
Toutle Lake did. but Gfeller and the Colfax defense stood in their way.
Adna’s athletic 6-6 center Nate Trotter stood in NWC’s way, nearly blocking their path to the Crusader’s sixth trip to the title game in seven years.
Not only did Trotter score 12 points for the Pirates (24-2), he blocked five shots and nearly single-handedly had to try to contain the Crusaders’ inside duo of 6-5 Kwinn Hanson (17 points and 14 rebounds) and 6-6 Reuben Clark (10 points).
No matter. Winward took up the slack, scoring 17 points and helping to relieve Adna’s pressure that paid off in 20 NWC turnovers, 13 in the first half.