SPOKANE — Naselle reached state quarterfinals for the first time since 1993, winning their opening-round game over Garfield-Palouse on Kolby Glenn’s late three-pointer before dropping their next two against Almira-Coulee-Hartline and Oakesdale.
Glenn’s three-pointer with 35.5 seconds left was the winning shot in Naselle’s 54-51 victory over Garfield-Palouse in the 9:00 p.m. game Feb. 27. Naselle sealed the deal when Jack Ruch, brought in as a defensive specialist against the in-bound pass with 2.4 seconds left, forced a high throw that Ethan Lindstrom intercepted.
Naselle, which trailed by seven points early in the second quarter, went on a 24-10 run to take a 39-29 third quarter lead.
The Vikings made a run of their own, but Corey Gregory blocked two fourth-quarter shots with Naselle clinging to a one-point lead. Lindstrom also preserved Naselle’s lead with a series of tough finishes near the rim in the fourth quarter, including an in-air adjustment to a fade-away from the side of the basket that he got to go in for a 50-45 lead with 2:45 remaining.
But at the 1:59 mark, Columbia Valley League Player of the Year Jacob Eaton fouled out trying to stop an Austin Jones layup, which cut the lead to one. Naselle was already without All-League guard Antonio Nolan, who was limited by an ankle injury suffered at regionals and was confined to the bench down the stretch.
The Comets committed a shot-clock violation on their next possession, and a pair of free throws by Blake Jones put Garfield-Palouse ahead 51-50 with 1:04 left.
Naselle again struggled to generate anything on its next possession. But with the shot clock in single digits, Glenn caught Lindstrom’s pass behind the three-point line, created space with a pass-fake to the corner, and drilled the shot to give Naselle the 53-51 lead.
“We were just trying to move the ball,” Glenn said. “Ethan drove and kicked to me and I did a pass-fake to the corner and shot it. I didn’t feel any pressure.”
On the Vikings’ next possession, Lindstrom contested a driving Jones at the basket to force a miss.
“It was a play where in a different situation I’d maybe gamble for a steal, but I knew we needed a stop” and played it safe on defense, Lindstrom said. “He dribbled left and tried to take Kolby. It was just help defense” as Lindstrom and Eaton met Jones at the basket.
The rebound came loose, but the Comets gained possession on a jump ball with 12.6 seconds left. The Vikings tried for a steal rather than fouling, but Naselle broke their press, forcing them to foul Lindstrom with 2.4 seconds left.
After Lindstrom hit one of two free throws, the Vikings in-bounded and were stuck at half-court with just a second on the clock, but referees blew the play dead due to a clock operator’s error. Taking advantage of the dead ball, Naselle coach Brian Macy brought in the 6’1” Ruch for the 5’7” Glenn to guard the in-bounds pass. Garfield-Palouse’s coach argued that the substitution should not be allowed, and that Naselle should get a technical.
“I knew it wasn’t a technical,” Macy said. “The refs had waved him in; I hadn’t waved him in.”
After a conference, the referees decided it was legal for Ruch to substitute into the game. It was the junior’s first playing time of the game, and the first crunch-time action of his career.
“I tried to read (the in-bounder’s) eyes, and make sure he couldn’t see where he was going with the ball,” Ruch said.
Garfield’s in-bounder, under duress, put up a high arcing pass that was out of the reach of his teammate at half-court and intercepted by Lindstrom to end the game.
While Lindstrom broke down the Viking defense late, Corey Gregory carried the team in the early going, keeping them in the game during a rough start. He scored the team’s first seven points, including a three-pointer and steal-and-score. After Naselle fell behind 19-12, Gregory had another steal and layup, then hit a three to cut it to 21-18 with 4:05 in the half.
Naselle trailed by three at halftime but finally took the lead at 31-29 on Eaton’s jumper. Jimmy Strange drove to the basket, collapsed the defense and found Lindstrom open for three. Cole Dorman made a leaping put-back, then forced a Viking ball-handler to bobble it out of bounds. Gregory followed with a three-pointer to push the lead to ten points.
Lindstrom’s scoring off the dribble, along with two big blocks by Gregory, helped Naselle hold onto its lead until the 1:04 mark. Then Glenn’s three-pointer put them in front for good, sending them to State quarterfinals for the first time since 1993.
Gregory finished with 18 points, Lindstrom with 16.
Quarterfinals pitted Naselle against Almira-Coulee-Hartline. Last year, Maguire Isaak led the Warriors to the State championship game, where they lost in double-overtime to Sunnyside Christian. This season, Reece Isaak, Maguire’s younger but bigger brother, has surpassed him as the team’s top scorer. Reece, at 6’3” and 220 pounds is already one of the strongest players in 1B, has the game of an old-school center, using brute force to fight for position and dominate near the basket. Maguire, who many of the Comets remember for the absurd numbers he put up against their football team as quarterback in the playoffs the last two Novembers, is a good jump-shooter on the hardwood. He hit a fade-away buzzer-beater against Pomeroy to win State semifinals last year.
Three-pointers from Jacob Eaton, Corey Gregory and Cole Dorman put Naselle ahead 11-2 early. But the Comets could not sustain their hot early shooting, and generated very few easy baskets against the bigger Warriors. Fifty-seven percent of Naselle’s shots came from long-range, where the Comets shot just six of 25.
Maguire Isaak had a pair of steal-and-score plays during a 10-0 run that gave Almira a 12-11 lead.
Naselle Junior Corey Gregory, though, kept the older Isaak contained in the half-court game, continuing a stand-out defensive performance at State. Isaak ended up with eight points, all in the first half, on three-of-nine shooting. Gregory mostly kept Isaak to contested jump shots, though he also blocked him from behind on a second-half drive to the basket. Gregory also had a game-high four steals.
“He’s a longer defender,” Macy said. “We had a number of guys we thought could stay in front of (Maguire Isaak), but we put Corey on him to contest his jumper. He elevates well.”
But Reece Isaak was a force down low, shooting seven-of-nine for 16 points. Fourteen of his points came in the first half as ACH went ahead 28-16.
Almira took only five three-pointers but made three of them. All three makes came early in the third quarter, including two by Hayden Loomis, as the Warriors stretched the lead to 39-20. The lead went as high as 24 at 50-26 early in the fourth.
Eaton led Naselle with 14 points on six of 13 shooting, including two of five from beyond the arc. Dorman was Naselle’s hottest shooter, going four of five, including two of three from long-range, for 10 points.
Nolan, who had tape on his ankle in the first game, had it off for the ACH game and was much more mobile. He would get his first start of the tournament in Friday’s game against Oakesdale.
For the Warriors, Maguire Isaak had three steals and just one turnover to go with his eight points. Brayton Schafer grabbed nine rebounds as the Warriors outrebounded Naselle 36-18. Loomis and Gage Burchill had nine points apiece, tying for second on the team behind Reece Isaak’s 16; Burchill hit seven of eight free throws.
Naselle vs. Oakesdale
Friday afternoon’s consolation-bracket game pitted Naselle against Oakesdale. The winner would move on to the fourth/sixth place game, and thus would be guaranteed to place. The Nighthawks came into the tournament with a 16-7 record, which included a 1-2 mark against Garfield-Palouse, making them a seemingly beatable opponent.
But Oakesdale got to the basket regularly, shooting 62.2 percent from the field. The Comets put up almost half their shot attempts from three-point range, where they were just six for 25 for the second straight game.
Kieron Anderson, Oakesdale’s 6’4” center, is no Reece Isaak, but he had an impressive game with 20 points on eight-of-twelve shooting. The ‘Hawks also beat the Comets at their own open-court game, getting out running on offense far more frequently than did Naselle.
“We were slow afoot,” coach Brian Macy said. “They always seemed to get to the rim on us.”
Oakesdale trailed 13-8 but went on a pivotal 21-7 first-half run. Matthew Hockett had a steal and drove around Kolby Glenn to give the Hawks their first lead at 17-15 early in the second quarter. Simon Anderson followed with an easy basket on press-break by the Hawks. The Comets were becoming a bit out of sorts on offense, committing a string of turnovers and then going through a stretch in which they settled for three-pointers. Hockett continued his playmaking as the Nighthawks built a nine-point late-second quarter lead.
“I told them at half-time we can’t just go ‘pass, shoot a three.’ We have to run our offense,” Macy said.
Five Comet points in the last 1:03 of the half made it a close game at halftime. After a free throw by Dorman, Glenn trapped Simon Anderson against the sideline to force a turnover. Nolan drove to set up a baseline jumper by Dorman. Then, Gregory stole a bobbled pass and took it all the way for a basket with 4.2 seconds in the half, cutting Oakesdale’s halftime lead to 31-27.
Oakesdale quickly regained command to start the third quarter. Hockett again pushed the pace on their opening possession, scoring on a three-point play. By quarter’s end, their lead was 50-40.
With the Comets down 13 in the fourth quarter, Jimmy Strange tried to bring them back. He drove the baseline, got fouled and hit both free throws, then drove around the defense for a layup on Naselle’s next possession to cut the lead to single digits. He then pounded the ball away for a steal, leading to a three-pointer by Corey Gregory that cut it to 55-49 with 5:34 left.
But Naselle could not complete the comeback. Nolan came close to a steal on the next possession, but it just eluded him; instead, Wesley Castanon hit a crushing three-pointer. Lindstrom pump-faked past Himes but missed the layup. Gregory got open for a three but couldn’t get it to fall. Oakesdale soon had the lead back to a dozen, with just over four minutes to go, and cruised to the win.
This was the Comets’ second straight trip to Spokane, but last year they were one-and-done. This season, they had more of a chance to soak up the atmosphere.
“It’s an experience like no other,” the senior Dorman said after playing his final game. “It’s definitely one of the best atmospheres for basketball in Washington.”
When Dorman, Eaton, Vince Fauver and Ian Fontanilla were freshmen, Naselle was coming off a four-win season. Nolan, also a senior this year, joined the group as a sophomore after transferring from Montesano. The team’s improvement has been steady throughout their time at Naselle.
“It was a great season,” Macy said. “These seniors brought us a long way…. They really set a new standard for our program.”