LACEY — Thanks to a fast start and an equally strong response to a Tulalip Heritage comeback, Taholah’s boys can join their female counterparts in Spokane later this week.
Scoring the game’s first nine and last 10 points, the Chitwhins earned a state berth with a 57-45 victory over Tulalip Heritage in the Region II Class 1B Boys Basketball Tournament on Saturday at Timberline High School.
The Chitwhins (18-2, including forfeit wins) advance to the state 1B tourney beginning Thursday in Spokane. It will be their first trip to state since 2009. Taholah’s girls qualified for state the previous night.
One of the boys’ two defeats had come at the hands of Tulalip Heritage, 57-37, earlier this season. But the Chitwhins made some significant adjustments in all phases of the game Saturday.
Playing a sagging man-to-man, Taholah frustrated Tulalip in the half-court set. The Chitwhins also got back on defense sufficiently to prevent the Hawks — a running, high-flying club whose style is not all that dissimilar from Taholah’s — from burning them on the fast break.
It also helped that the Hawks missed repeatedly from close range — misses that had their coaching staff hopping in frustration. The Marysville team connected on only 23 percent of its field-goal tries.
“Our defense stepped up a lot,” first-year Taholah head coach Greg Stewart observed as a large Taholah contingent swarmed onto the court afterward. “They sagged and helped out.”
The smallish but aggressive Hawks also owned a bare 51-49 rebounding edge, which Stewart considered a victory of sorts.
“The difference between this game and the first game was our rebounding,” he continued. “The first game, we gave up something like 15 offensive rebounds. All the kids played together, it’s great.”
The Chitwhins took turns making contributions on the offensive end. Ronnie Tadios-Tahkeal scored 10 of his 12 points in the first quarter and wound up sharing game scoring honors with teammate Justin Curleybear.
An all-stater best known for his long-range shooting, Tadios-Tahkeal was installed in the high post for a good portion of the game and did an excellent job distributing the ball. He was credited with six assists and also grabbed eight rebounds.
“We’ve been trying to get someone who can see the court,” Stewart explained. “He’s a good all-around player.”
Senior guard Cleve Jackson tallied 8 of his 11 points in the fourth quarter to stave off a Tulalip rally. Sophomore guard Keanu Curleybear canned two big 3-point baskets in the third quarter en route to a 10-point night.
The second of those gave the Chitwhins a seemingly comfortable 41-27 lead entering the final period.
It looked a lot less comfortable five minutes later. With the Chitwhins committing six turnovers against the press and missing badly on most of their shots, the Hawks went on a 9-2 run to close the margin to two, 47-45, on a pair of Payton Comenote free throws with 2:42 remaining.
Jackson spotted up for a three-ball 17 seconds later that hit nothing but net. That proved to be the back-breaker as far as Tulalip was concerned.
Jimmy Smith-Kramer added a layin moments later and J. Curleybear converted a feed from Tadios-Tahkeal for a 54-45 lead with 1:16 on the clock.
Jackson’s free throw and Justin Curleybear’s layin off a lob pass from his younger brother closed out the scoring.
The first five minutes of the game proved just as important. Tadios-Tahkeal sandwiched seven points around Justin Curleybear’s basket for the aforementioned 9-0 lead with the contest barely four minutes old.
Tulalip Heritage missed its opening 11 field-goal attempts.
The Hawks subsequently caught the Chitwhins at 16-all but never passed them. A pair of Tadios-Tahkeal free throws and Justin Curleybear’s jumper from the right wing put Taholah ahead to stay.
Shawn Sanchey, who did his business entirely on 3-point baskets, topped Tulalip with nine points.
Sunnyside Christian pulled away to beat Evergreen Lutheran, 63-47, in the first game of the Timberline doubleheader.
Tul 8 12 7 18 — 45 Tah 14 9 18 16 — 57
Tulalip Heritage (45) — B. Jones 8, Comenote 8, Miles 7, Sanchey 9, Kidd 6, Hamilton 4, D. Jones 3. FG — 15-66 (.227). FT — 11-16.
Taholah (57) — Jackson 11, Smith-Kramer 8, J. Curleybear 12, Tadios-Tahkeal 12, K. Curleybear 10, Winn 4, Purdy, Stewart, Markishtum. FG — 21-64 (.328). FT — 9-16.