The first step toward the state tournament in Yakima and Spokane begins for Hoquiam, North Beach and Taholah in regional games on Saturday.
All three of them are underdogs in one shape or another — either by the opposition those teams will face or circumstances off the court that kept them from being on the court.
Hoquiam (19-5) is making its second regional appearance in three years and is making another trip north. This time, the Grizzlies will be at Mount Vernon High School to take on the defending state 1A champions, Lynden Christian Lyncs (21-5).
For North Beach (14-11), a long road trip to Spokane awaits. Once there, the Hyaks will take on top-ranked St. George’s of Spokane (25-1) at Mount Spokane High School.
For Taholah (17-2), this is its third straight trip to the regionals at Timberline High School in Lacey. However, the Chitwhins will only have 11 games under their belts when they take on Tulalip Heritage (18-7).
Hoquiam- Lynden Christian
As the No. 4 seed out of the Southwest District IV, Hoquiam will get the honor of taking on the Lyncs, who have rolled through the Dist. I-II-III tri-district tournament with relative ease and are considered a favorite to repeat as state champs this year.
The last time Hoquiam was in the regional tournament, the Grizzlies lost two games in a row to Cascade Christian and Vashon Island in 2011 to bow out. This time, it is winner-to-state, loser-out game against the top-ranked Lyncs (No. 2 in the ScoreCzar computer rankings).
“There is no pressure on us,” HHS head coach Curtis Eccles said. “If there’s any pressure, I believe it is on them, because they’re expected to win. They’ve had a great season. They’ve knocked off (state-ranked) Seattle Academy and Cedar Park Christian. The pressure is on them and I think that is to our advantage.”
Hoquiam will have a challenge on its hands and Eccles acknowledged as much earlier this week. Lynden Christian returns the state 1A player of the year, 6-foot-8 forward Isaac Reimer, as well as potent scoring threats Dustin Brandsma (6-4 forward) and Daulton Hommes (6-1 point guard).
Reimer, who is the Lyncs’ leading 3-point shooter, will be target by the Grizzlies from the get-go. In practice, the scout team has had assistant coach Jeff Niemi, a member of Hoquiam’s 2004 state 2A championship team, impersonating Reimer on the court.
Niemi on the court and the entire coaching staff off the court has been working with 6-6 forward Cole Smith and 6-4 post Alex Boulden on how to defend Reimer and Brandsma.
This will be the biggest matchup focus of the game for Hoquiam — how Smith and Boulden deal with Reimer and Brandsma on both sides of the court.
“It is definitely going to be a challenge,” Eccles said. “With the scout team we’ve had, we’ve lacked Lynden Christian’s size, but they’ve done a great job of portraying their style and tendencies. And Niemi has done a great job of portraying Reimer. Jeff may be four inches shorter, but he has the same characteristics as Reimer.”
Even though Eccles and his staff have been working with the Grizzlies over the past week to prepare for Saturday, the veteran coach knows that his team will have to come out and perform in order to topple the Lyncs.
“At this time of the season, we are not concerned with who we play, but how we are playing,” Eccles said. “Right now, we’re inconsistent. At times, this team has gelled well and played extremely well, well enough to play with anyone in the state. At other times, it isn’t there.
“We’re the underdogs,” Eccles added. “It’ll come down to the team that wants it more. We’ll be prepared, so that won’t be an excuse if things go wrong. We’re really confident we can win this game.”
North Beach-St. George’s
North Beach head coach Larry Moore is used to this routine. Once the Hyaks are in the postseason, a top-ranked team or a state-championship squad will be the first opponent up for them.
“One year, we had Chief Leschi, then another year Brewster and then Northwest Christian-Colbert at state; if you want someone to face the No. 1 team, it is North Beach,” Moore said. “It is our luck of the draw.
“We’re going on and planning on winning,” Moore said. “We have the mindset that if we play hard, we can win. We’re realistic, but we also know that upsets happen every year and hope we’re the team that does that. We feel if we play our game, we can be competitive. In a close game, anything can happen.”
The last time North Beach was in a state-level tournament was 2009, a four-game trip to Spokane that netted an eighth-place trophy. The Hyaks’ first-round opponent was Northwest Christian, which won the state title.
This trip to Spokane will feature another No. 1-ranked (media and computer) opponent, St. George’s of Spokane. The Dragons, whose only loss this season was by one point to Class 2A Pullman, rolled past Colfax, 54-38, in the Dist. VII title game last Saturday.
Six-foot-six post Dexter Sienko led St. George’s with 25 points and 10 rebounds in the win. Sienko, a junior whose freshman brother, Liam, is listed at 6-5, will present a somewhat unique challenge to the Hyaks.
“Other than (Hoquiam’s) Cole Smith, we haven’t faced a big post player like (Sienko) this year,” Moore said. “We did a good job on the other kids (against Hoquiam). Sienko is the real deal.”
North Beach may employ a rotating trio of players — 6-4 forwards Steven Fry and Caleb Bridge and 6-2 post Justin Chong — to cover Sienko, allowing the rest of the team to cover St. George’s guards.
“We can’t be afraid to use everyone, that’s for sure,” Moore said. “Caleb can bang (down low). Our kids get knocked down by him every day.”
Corey Thornton is the Hyaks’ leading scorer with 12 points per game average, with Joseph Wagner dishing out 2.7 assists per game and Gabe Hernandez 6.9 rebounds per game.
“It is one game, one night; you don’t know what is going to happen,” Moore said. “I believe we can take it to them. We’re going over there to beat them, that’s for sure.”
This is exactly where Taholah wanted to be after last year’s regional 1B loss to Muckleshoot at Timberline High School, but not the path it envisioned.
The Chitwhins walked into Saturday’s game against Tulalip Heritage as the Dist. IV-V No. 1 seed, but only have 11 games played on the court. The team earned eight wins via forfeit after the dissolution of the Coastal League in late December.
From the dissolution to the district play-in games in early February, Taholah only played three games. One of those game was against the Hawks, who knocked off the Chitwhins, 57-37, at Tulalip.
“We were ill-prepared for them; not playing games really hurt us in that game,” Taholah head coach Greg Stewart said. “We’ve done a lot of running and studied the last game we played them. They understand what they were doing.
“It was tough at first not having games, not knowing what would happen,” Stewart said of the in-season hiatus. “For the kids, it was frustrating. We ran every day and they got a bit tired of it. To be in practice shape is one thing, but game shape is completely different. It does show that we’re still trying to get into game shape.”
Taholah knows that Tulalip will bring a high-tempo, baseline-t0-baseline running attack and defense that caught the Chithwins off-guard in their first meeting.
The Chitwhins showcased some of their traditional high-tempo play against Mary M. Knight and Columbia Adventist in district play, but also feature a half-court game with 6-foot-4 post Joseph Winn and 6-3 forward Ronnie Tadios-Tahkeal.
“Our big guys will be really important,” Stewart said. “Ronnie brings the offense and Joe brings the size. Joe’s been scoring a lot and rebounding over the past few games. Getting him into the swing of things will be key. Ronnie is our league MVP from the past two years and he’s been hitting his stride lately.”
Keanu Curleybear has provided a long-range threat to the Chitwhins, while his older brother, Justin, runs the floor from the wings. Cleve Jackson has emerged as the team’s point guard, while a slew of six bench players behind them will get time to play to minimize fatigue.
“We have 10-11 guys who can play; we lose some scoring, but the defense is right there,” Stewart said. “The bench players have played this year and they’ll help us out as we move along. Our offense has been set up by our defense over the past several games. It’ll come down to which team’s defense will step up and play.”
At Mount Vernon: 4 p.m. — La Center vs. Cedar Park Christian (Bothell). 6 p.m. — Hoquiam vs. Lynden Christian.
At Chehalis: 4 p.m. — King’s vs. Kalama. 6 p.m. — Mount Baker vs. Toledo.
At West Valley (Yakima): 4 p.m. — Kiona-Benton vs. Seattle Academy. 6 p.m. — Cashmere vs. Zillah.
At Central Valley (Spokane): 4 p.m. — Granger vs. Brewster. 6 p.m. — Okanogan vs. Columbia Burbank.
At Mountlake Terrace: 4 p.m. — Lind-Ritzville/Sprague vs. Bear Creek. 6 p.m. — Mossyrock vs. LaConner.
At Mark Morris (Longview): 4 p.m. — Tacoma Baptist vs. Morton-White Pass. 6 p.m. — Winlock vs. Adna.
At Mount Spokane (Spokane): 4 p.m. — Bridgeport vs. Colfax. 6 p.m. — North Beach vs. St. George’s.
At Sunnyside: 4 p.m. — Liberty Bell vs. Wahkiakum. 6 p.m. — Northwest Christian (Colbert) vs. Riverside Christian.
At Lynnwood: 4 p.m. — Waterville vs. Neah Bay. 6 p.m. — Christian Faith vs. Cedar Park Christian (Everett).
At Timberline (Lacey): 4 p.m. — Evergreen Lutheran vs. Sunnyside Christian. 6 p.m. — Taholah vs. Tulalip Heritage.
At Eastmont (East Wenatchee): 6 p.m. — Valley Christian vs. Soap Lake. 8 p.m. — Columbia Adventist vs. Moses Lake Christian.
At Walla Walla: 4 p.m. — Pomeroy vs. Odessa-Harrington. 6 p.m. — Wellpinit vs. LaCrosse-Washtucna/Kahlotus.