SPOKANE - The just completed Washington State Class "B" Basketball Tournament may have produced more surprises than one has come to expect in these affairs - at least in the boys' half of the tournament. The major surprise occurred when two west side teams, both from the Northwest "B" League and the Tri-District, battled it out for the boys state title.

The champion, Darrington Loggers, swept through their four opponents by an average winning margin of over 11 points a game to win the championship after a fourth place finish a year ago. Their title game victory came against Shoreline Christian, a team that wasn't even on the tournament radarscope a year ago.

A year ago, the Phil's Phollies prediction was defending champion Sunnyside Christian, from the central region, had the inside track on the title until someone could knock them off. They got knocked off - into a fourth-place finish - by Garfield-Palouse of the southeast district, a team that wasn't in last year's tournament. Phil's Phollies gave a soft prediction of Darrington and another team that wasn't in last year's tournament to be involved in the final four.

Those predictions were fairly accurate with Darrington finishing number one, unknown Shoreline Christian number two, underdog Gar-Pal number three and defending champion Sunnyside Christian number four.

The fifth- through eighth-place boys teams were fifth-place Curlew from the northeast district, sixth place Waterville from the central region, seventh place St. George's from the northeast and Clallam Bay, giving the Tri-District a clean sweep with all three of its teams placing.

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In the girls tournament, all was right in the east as east side teams captured the top four places, paced by champion Lind-Ritzville, with a squeaker over defending champ St. George's. In case you aren't aware, both of those teams are out of the northeast district, playing in their own backyards in this tournament.

The third and fourth place teams also were from just down the road from Spokane, with Tekoa-Oakesdale, out of the southeast district, finishing third and Kittitas, from the Central Region, finishing fourth.

The fifth through eighth place girls teams saw the only breakthrough for west side teams as Mt. Vernon Christian, from the Tri-District and Naselle, from the southwest district, placed fifth and seventh respectively. Phil's Phollies predicted those two teams, plus the southwest district's Mossyrock. could have been in the running for third and fourth places in this year's tournament. The first two came close. Mossyrock went home early.

The other two placing teams this year were sixth-place Almira/Coulee-Hartline, of the northeast district, and eighth-place Waterville, from the central region.

Phil's Phollies predicted St. George's would repeat as girls state champions. They came close, losing to Lind-Ritzville when a shot rimmed out at the final horn. The Saints would probably have won this game if Ritzville had not picked up the Lind players, including an all state forward. In fact, Ritzville probably would not have been among the top eight teams, without the Lind addition.

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Well, how about next year? The boys' tournament should have four teams with returning players that exceed those returning from other teams. The Mansfield Kernels of the central region, which played in only its second tournament ever, returns ten players who averaged 55 points a game. The Kernels, which beat Willapa Valley in their opening tournament game, went home after the third day this year.

The second boys team with lots of returning fire power is eighth place Clallam Bay, from the Tri-District, with ten players who averaged 50.9 points this year. The Bruins will have three players returning who are averaging in double figures or nearly at that plateau.

A bit behind these two teams are the southwest district's Willapa Valley with eight tall timbers who averaged 46.3 points this year and second place Shoreline Christian, from the Tri-District, with six players (including a first team all tournament player) averaging 40.5 points a game.

Some of the other districts, which have traditionally produced high finishing teams, have teams lumped into a group behind the top four. The northeast's Valley Christian with eight players averaging 36.6 points; the central region's sixth place Waterville with eight at 29.7 (including a second team all tournament player); and the southwest's Pe Ell with seven at 28.8 all bring back talent which is a bit behind the top teams.

Notably absent among these teams are any teams from the southeast district and only one team from the northeast district. One can count on teams from these two districts making an impact and being among the top teams next year

Who, then, will make the finals? The "4P" (Phil's Phollies Phearless Prognostications) for the 2004 boys tournament looks for Willapa Valley to make some noise next year. The young Vikings will be a year older and they should be able to use this year's tournament problems to finish high on the tournament ladder. Clallam Bay, Mansfield, Shoreline Christian and Waterville could be among the top five teams.

The "4P" predicts Willapa Valley will beat - hmmm, let's say - Waterville in the finals. (The northeast and southeast district teams undoubtedly will have something to say about what teams play in the finals.)

The absence of top returning boys teams leaves an opening for some other teams that didn't make it to Spokane this year. Cathlamet and Morton, from the southwest are two local examples. St. John-Endicott, from the southeast, is another team that could be heard from.

The girls' tournament, in contrast to the boys, should have a large group of returning teams with lots of tournament veterans, including several all-tournament players. Leading that group are non-placing King's West, from the Tri-District and fourth place Kittitas, from the central region.

The King's return all 12 players on their roster who averaged 68.6 points a game this season. The Kittitas Coyotes return 10 players, including first team and second team all tournament players, who averaged 60.8 points this season.

Two northeast district teams are slightly behind those top two teams. Wellpinit returns 11 players who scored 51.9 points and Almira/Coulee-Hartline returns 11 players, including an all tournament first team choice, who averaged 49.7 points.

Four teams trail the top four in returning fire power. Mossyrock, from the southwest, returns six at 46.9 points; Asotin, from the southeast, has 11 at 43.0 points; Pateros, of the central region, 10 at 43.7 (including all tournament Hannah Hull who was arguably the girls' tournament top player); and second place St. George's with eight players (including an all tournament first team choice) with 38.3 points a game.

The "4P" for the 2004 girls tournament sees Kittitas beating A/C-H for the title. The race for the other top spots appears to be wide open with several teams, named above, having a shot at finishing among the top five places.

The "fly in the ointment" for the girls tournament - and the boys, for that matter - is whether Lind-Ritzville wins its appeal to the WIAA. If they win, the appeal, they could be back playing B ball instead of 1A ball and you know what the L-R girls did this year, primarily with underclassmen. The L-R boys also were within a breath of being a factor in this year's state tourney, losing in overtime to St. George's in the northeast district tournament.

The two Naselle teams will be in a rebuilding mode as both teams lost most of their key players. Their chances to advance to the state tournament will depend on how fast and far the younger, inexperienced players develop. It won't be impossible, as the Comets proved this year, but it will be long-shot for the Naselle boys and girls team to qualify for the reduced state allocation for southwest teams. In fact, just qualifying for the reduced district tournament will even be more difficult.

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