It seemed sort of preordained two Northeast 2B schools would meet in tonight’s State 2B boys basketball final. After all, they’ve been atop the classification all season.
Defending champion Colfax did its part in the first semifinal Friday at the Arena, surviving a barrage of early 3-pointers from Wahkiakum to put the Mules away in the second half, 53-37.
And top-ranked St. George’s, league and district champions, survived a Lind-Ritzville/Sprague comeback, with junior Corey Spalding coming through with the biggest shot in the Dragons’ 55-52 victory.
The finalists have met four times, with St. George’s winning them all. The tightest game was for the district championship, a 51-47 margin.
“One more with Colfax,” Dragons coach Ryan Peplinski said. “If we win that tomorrow, we’ll have to earn it just like we did in this one.”
St. George’s and LRS had met three times previously, with the Dragons winning all of the games, the closest one a 14-point margin. So when St. George’s Erik Muelheims buried a 21-footer to open the second half, giving the Dragons a 12-point lead, the outcome seemed fixed.
Except to LRS.
“We could have rolled over,” Broncos coach Dustan Arlt said. “A lot of teams have. But there is no quit in these guys.”
They didn’t mainly because Colby Starring started nailing long-range shots en route to a team-high 14 points. He hit four, including one as the shot clock expired with 3 minutes, 53 seconds left, that gave LRS (22-9) a 50-48 lead, its first since the first quarter.
After an exchange of baskets, Muelheims found Spalding alone in the right corner and the guard, starting in the place of injured senior Mark Kenney, buried a 21-footer with 1:51 remaining.
“He’s a really confident shooter,” Muelheims said of Spalding, who had nine points.
The Broncos had two looks from long range, sandwiching those misfires around misses inside by St. George’s Dexter Sienko, a 6-foot-6 post who had 20 points and 10 rebounds.
The Dragons (28-1), leading 53-52, milked the clock before missing a 3-pointer. Muelheims, who led everyone with 21 points, tipped the rebound to a teammate. They worked more time off before another miss. Meulheims went high and grabbed this rebound, his eighth. With less than 20 seconds left, LRS had to foul.
Meulheims made two free throws, the Broncos missed two 3-pointers and the final was set.
Colfax 53, Wahkiakum 37: The first quarter was just half over and the Bulldogs (22-7) already trailed 12-3. The second quarter was more than half over and they trailed 20-8. That’s how well the Mules (20-8) were shooting, especially from long range.
“I figured the likelihood of them being able to shoot that well two halves in a row was not real high,” Colfax coach Reece Jenkin said.
Wahkiakum didn’t. After hitting five of their first seven 3-pointers, the Mules made just 4 of their final 19, including 2 of 10 after halftime.
“Coach kept emphasizing how we had to get our hands up and account for shooters,” senior guard Brady Ellis, who led all scorers with 17 points, said of the halftime meeting.
The Bulldogs got the message. With Brandon Gfeller working more inside against the Mules’ 3-2 zone and Ellis bombing away from outside – he hit 5 of 12 3-pointers – Colfax went on a 20-2 run that started late in the first half and extended until the fourth quarter.
And when Wahkiakum pulled within five early in the fourth quarter, Gfeller pulled up from at least 27 feet and buried a 3.
A minute later Kasey Johnson banked in a 24-footer and Wahkiakum must have known it wasn’t its night.
Today will be Jenkin’s day. His wife, Breanne, will enter the hospital and labor will be induced starting at about 7 a.m. A few hours later the Bulldogs will try to give the baby a birthday present. Will they?
“St. George’s has proven they are the best team of us four (Northeast B teams) right now,” said LRS’s Arlt, whose team played seven times against the pair. “But it only takes one time. We almost did it tonight. Colfax has their chance (tonight).”