The echoes from cheering fans and teammates had barely faded at the Yakima SunDome when Race Martin realized the challenge that lay before him.
Martin had just helped Pullman win its first State 2A championship, making two clutch defensive plays in the final minute to seal a 44-39 win over Anacortes.
State tournament MVP Corey Langerveld, the Greyhounds’ standout 6-foot-8 post and the State 2A Player of the Year, was taking off his Pullman jersey for the final time and would head off to play basketball at Azusa Pacific.
Someone would have to step up and fill his shoes – perhaps not the 20 points and nine rebounds Langerveld managed in the title game, but be the team’s force in the middle – occupying space in the key and forcing opposing teams to defend inside.
“I looked around and I realized that, if we were going to get back there, I was going to have step my game up and try to fill that role that Corey filled,” said Martin, a 6-5 center. “I needed to become that kind of a player.”
Not that Martin hadn’t already stepped up his game. As a junior, he was first-team All-Great Northern League, averaging almost 14 points and eight rebounds per game.
It’s one thing to be a stellar supporting player, to be the one who makes defenses that double-team a teammate like Langerveld pay a heavy price. It’s quite another to be the kind of player that can put the team on his back and carry it when the need arises.
“I worked so hard to up my game,” Martin said. “It’s been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I’ve worked on every part of my game.”
Martin averages just shy of 20 points per game and is a strong bet for a double-double in points and rebounds in any game he suits up.
He was named the co-MVP of the Great Northern League, sharing the honor with West Valley’s Jake Love. And he is already a McDonald’s All-American nominee.
In the regional final, with Pullman struggling against a cat-quick team from Wapato, Martin struggled through the first half, scoring just seven points. By the end of the game he’d amassed 24 points and grabbed nine rebounds as the Greyhounds rolled to a 74-53 win.
It was the kind of bounce-back performance you’d expect from a veteran team.
“This group of seniors has probably played something like 200 games together over the years,” Pullman coach Craig Brantner said. “They know what I’m going to tell them before I say anything by now.”
Martin and the Greyhounds (20-2) face Mark Morris in the State 2A quarterfinal round.
Just don’t call them the defending champions.
“We don’t ever talk about ‘defending’ a state championship,” Brantner said after the regional. “That was last year’s team. Instead, we like to talk about pursuing a state championship, because that’s what we’re doing.”