With Mt. Spokane’s boys and girls teams ranked in the top five in the state 3A, games between North Central and Shadle Park become critical for the second Greater Spokane League seed to the District 8 tournament and the chance to host a first-round game instead of traveling to the Tri-Cities.
Add on the pageantry of Spirit Week at the Spokane Arena and it made for a loud, competitive scenario in the battle for the Groovy Shoes Monday night.
Jalen Martin carried North Central early, Ayden Barnufsky did late and both ended with 20 points to lead the Indians (2-11, 2-3) over the Highlanders (2-11, 0-5) 56-48 in the night’s late game.
Jake Wilcox, who entered averaging 6.1 points, paced Shadle Park with 19.
“We have to tell our guys, you remind them, especially with them being a younger group and not going through a whole varsity season a lot of them yet is that every time you play these 3A matchup games it’s actually a playoff game,” North Central coach Jase Wambold said.
“You’re fighting for a playoff spot, No. 1, that’s always the goal – to get in. But No. 2, if you finish second you still get to host and so you we’ve taken two steps towards that.”
Back-to-back buckets by Shadle’s Riley Sloan and Denham Kehr tied it at 44 with 4:27 left.
NC’s Levi Edwards (eight points) broke the tie with a 3 and Barnufsky hit one from long distance with 1:45 left to make it a four-point game.
“I was just thinking, I had to do what’s best for my team so I just pulled it,” the sophomore said of his NBA-length 3-pointer.
“You know with him, he’s a kid that’s worked really hard in the offseason to become a shooter and we trust him with that,” Wambold said. “If it’s an in-rhythm shot, you know an inside-out shot, and he’s open, we’re okay with it.”
Barnufsky added a floater next time down to make it 52-46 with 52.6 left.
Martin had 13 in the first half, hitting 7 of 8 from the line, but Shadle led by three at intermission.
Wilcox drained 3 midway through the third and added a put-back to make it an eight-point game with 2:49 left in the third.
But Barnufsky hit a 3 with just under a minute left in the frame and Shadle Park carried a 38-37 lead into the fourth.
“The spirit game is cool,” Barnufsky said, “but you just got to stay focused on the game and just play your heart out.”
North Central is senior-heavy, with seven on its roster of 11. On Monday, though, it was a junior reserve and freshman post that did a lot of the damage for the Indians.
Justine Tonasket scored 16 points with four 3-pointers, Hannah Hamilton added 12 points with nine rebounds and the Indians (5-8, 2-3) topped the Highlanders (4-8. 0-5) 58-33 in the early game.
Senior Dakota Chastain added 14 points for NC, including a pair of 3s in the second half.
Izzy Boring, averaging 15.1 points entering play, led Shadle with 22 points.
North Central has a two-game lead over Shadle and Rogers for the privilege to host a first-round game.
“It’s a huge win for us,” North Central coach Tim Lamanna said. “We talked about it before the game. This is Groovy Shoes, spirit game, but at the same time it’s a league game and we want that one or two (seed) and we want to be at home for the first playoff game. The girls really responded. Best game we played all year.”
Tonasket came off the bench in the first quarter for NC to provide a spark – she made a layup and 3-pointer and the Indians led 12-4 after one.
“It’s fantastic to have that offense coming off the bench,” Lamanna said. “Every time she shot it, it was going in. I kept telling her, ‘Shoot the ball. You get it, you shoot it.’ ”
“I know my role and I play my role,” Tonasket said. “You just get used to it.”
Late in the second, Boring hit a long 3-pointer, stole the inbound pass and made a layup to get Shadle back within striking distance. Boring had nine points in the frame but North Central led 22-13 at intermission.
Hamilton scored a quick four points at the start of the third and NC extended its lead to 16 points.
“(Hamilton) has a chance to be one of the best players to play at North Central ever,” Lamanna said. “She’s just going to get better and better and better every year.”
Tonasket drilled a pair of 3s late in the frame and NC led 40-19 after three.
Tonasket said she wasn’t nervous playing under the right lights at the Arena.
“It got us fired up,” she said. “It kind of gets me more excited to play in front of everybody.”