The Spokane Arena nets were in pieces, the gold ball covered with fingerprints, the hoarse voices finally silenced.
Colfax High’s Brandon Gfeller took a breath. And the junior guard explained what the Bulldogs’ 51-40 victory over Northwest Christian in the State 2B boys basketball title game meant to his town.
“Everything,” he said.
An efficient answer, perfect as a follow-up to the Bulldogs’ efficient and nearly perfect game.
“They took the air out of the ball,” said Northwest Christian coach Ray Ricks, whose team failed in its quest to repeat as 2B champions and to win its sixth title in seven years.
“They played very low-possession, high-efficiency basketball,” he continued. “They played to their strength and that’s probably to our weakness.”
The Bulldogs, who finish 22-5 but undefeated when the five starters they put on the court Saturday were available, showed again their strength is their defense. In their three state wins, they yielded 38, 44 and 40 points.
And the Crusaders, whose only losses in a 26-2 season came against their Bi-County foes the past two weeks? Their weakness proved to be in handling that defense.
“The first couple times we played them and they beat us, they had 70, 80 points,” said Colfax coach Reece Jenkin, making his second appearance in a B title game, though his first as a coach. “We talked if we’re going to be able to compete with them we’re going to need to control the pace of the game. … And we have to defend. That’s our focus every day.”
After Northwest Christian turned the ball over on its first possession, Colfax worked the ball and got a good shot. It didn’t fall, but both possessions were harbingers of what was to come.
NWC led just once – 2-0 – and trailed by three at the half. The Crusaders were 5 of 6 from the floor – they missed the first shot – in the second quarter but turned the ball over five times.
“Against a team like Northwest Christian, that’s pretty good,” Gfeller, who scored 13 points, said of forcing 13 turnovers overall.
Colfax picked up the defense even more after halftime, holding NWC to 37 percent shooting, though they had little in the way of an answer for 6-foot-6 Reuben Clark.
The senior post was the only Crusader in double figures with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
“Those big guys give us a lot of trouble since they are what, 6-6,” Berarducci, a senior, said of Clark and 6-5 Kwinn Hanson. “That second half, I wanted to come out and get some quick buckets.”
He did, scoring five points en route to 15 for the game. That offensive production helped the Bulldogs build a nine-point lead early in the fourth. But Northwest Christian rallied, seemingly buoyed by Clark’s powerful slam of a miss. Less than two minutes later the Crusaders were within 42-40, there were still 4 minutes left and Jenkin called time.
“I told our kids to settle down,” he said.
They did, milking the shot clock to the final seconds until Gfeller rose up and delivered a dagger. His 22-footer – mirroring a shot he made in the semifinals – went through the net as the shot clock expired.
“Same as yesterday I guess,” he said when asked what he was thinking. “Coach told us we needed to get back into this, so I thought I needed to hit a shot. I went out there and I did.”
An offensive foul on the other end – the Crusaders third in the post – followed by Kyle Johnson’s 20-footer, part of his 12 points and the last of Colfax’s eight 3-pointers, restored order and gave the Bulldogs their third B title (the first two were in 1946 and 1947) to go with a pair of 1A crowns in the late 1970s.
For Jenkin, who served as a ball boy in Reardan for coach Gene Smith and came to the Arena in 1997 as part of the Indians’ runner-up squad, it meant as much to him as Gfeller said it meant to the town.
“I’ll tell you,” he said after waxing poetic on his kids and coaching basketball in Colfax, “winning this game is a lot more fun than losing it.”