CHEHALIS — At least for a while, Hoquiam’s quarterfinal game in the District IV Class 1A Boys Basketball Tournament did not go exactly as HHS coach Curtis Eccles planned it.
However, the Grizzlies overcame early struggles on both sides of the ball and pulled off a come- from-behind 53-48 win over La Center on Thursday night at Chehalis.
The Grizzlies (18-3) will face Trico League champion Kalama in a district semifinal scheduled for 3 p.m. Saturday at Chehalis. Along with advancing to the title game, the winner will clinch a regional berth.
In the second quarter, a Dylan King 3-pointer capped a 17-5 La Center run, giving the Wildcats their biggest lead of the game at 27-15. Matt Braaten scored six of his team-high 15 points during that stretch.
Hoquiam responded by going on a 17-0 run that lasted from the second quarter to the third quarter and put the Grizzlies up, 32-27. David Sandstrom hit a trey and connected on all four of his free throw attempts during that span. Sandstrom finished the game with 10 points.
A 3-pointer by Braaten cut Hoquiam’s lead to 51-48 in the last minute of the game, but the Grizzly defense buckled down and La Center was unable to score any more down the stretch. Hoquiam made two of four free throws to close out the game.
The Grizzlies wanted to utilize their talented post players, and work the ball down low, but the defensive play of La Center’s bigs forced Hoquiam to change its strategy.
“They did a great job of defending Cole (Smith), and we had a hard time getting him the ball even though we stressed that we really needed to get the ball in his hands,” Eccles said. “So we tried to get Ronnie (Espedal) some shots, and it ended up paying off.”
Espedal showed off a smooth and consistent jump shot and paced the Grizzlies with 19 points.
Although Smith was limited on offense, he still managed to contribute in a big way on the defensive end. The senior post hauled in 13 rebounds and blocked six shots.
“He really played great,” Eccles said of Smith. “Blocking shots like that and grabbing rebounds was key. He’s 6-foot-6 and a two-time defending state high jump champion, and it’s hard for guards on dribble penetration to get the ball up over those long arms. He makes everyone think before they drive.”
A welcome surprise for Hoquiam was the play of Blake Kelly. The junior post scored seven points off the bench, all in the second half.
Injuries and eligibility issues have left the Grizzlies a little thin at post late this season. Joel Brydon and Jaycob Guined did not play Thursday and Alex Boulden will miss the next two games.
“Blake Kelly coming in and playing like he did was a key X factor for us, especially in the second half” Eccles said. “We saw flashes out of him the last few games. That’s why we moved him off of JV, and he played just varsity. This is going to be kind of a welcoming for Blake, because with all of our posts either injured or ineligible, he’s really our number two post player.”
LAC 18 9 11 10 — 48 HOQ 10 14 22 7 — 53
La Center (48) — Aguirre 14, Arn 5, Braaten 15, King 3, Myers 2, VanTol 6, Wonderly 3. FG – 18-53 (.340). FT – 8-15.
Hoquiam (53) — Boulden 2, Espedal 19, B. Kelly 7, D. Kelly, Lorton 2, Newton 4, Sandstrom 10, Smith 9. FG – 18-45 (.400). FT – 14-21.