MONTESANO — Late-game heroics from Montesano’s Kody Usher couldn’t prevent Hoquiam from clinching the Evergreen 1A League title on Tuesday night.
After a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Usher sent the game into overtime, Hoquiam buckled down and put away the pesky Bulldogs, 64-61, on Senior Night at Bo Griffith Memorial Gym.
With 20 seconds left in the game and the Grizzlies clinging to a 55-54 lead, Hoquiam freshman post Jace Varner hit two free throws to put the Grizzlies up 57-54.
On the ensuing Bulldogs’ possession, Usher found himself stuck in a tough spot beyond the left elbow with time winding down. The senior guard managed to shake his defender and sink a deep, off-balance trey as time expired to tie the game and send it into overtime.
Hoquiam scored the first three points of the extra period on a free throw by Blake Kelly and a field goal by Evan Newton.
With 1:40 remaining, Usher struck again, this time tying the game at 60-60 with a 3-pointer from the corner. Usher finished with a game-high 25 points, 19 of which came in the second half and overtime.
“Kody really came to play tonight,” Montesano head coach Doug Galloway said. “He shot the ball with confidence, and I’m very proud of him for being able to step up. He wanted the ball in his hands in the pressure situation.”
However, Hoquiam (11-0 in league play, 14-5 overall) prevailed in the closing minutes. The Grizzles got field goals from Blake Kelly and Jerod Steen and held Montesano to one Evan Bialkowsky free throw the rest of the way.
The Bulldogs (5-6, 10-9) could have had one final shot when Blake Kelly missed a pair of free throws with 1.6 seconds left and Hoquiam leading, 64-61. However, Kelly redeemed himself for the missed shots from the charity stripe by hauling in the offensive rebound after his own miss and holding the ball while time ran out.
“Our guys did some right things at the end,” Hoquiam head coach Curtis Eccles said. “We made some key shots and played some better defense. Give credit to Monte. They really came to play tonight.”
Hoquiam’s transition offense was nearly unstoppable in the first half. The Grizzlies connected on 18 of their 28 first-half field goal attempts and led 40-28 at the break. Hoquiam senior Devin Kelly scored 13 of his team-high 15 points in the first half.
Hoewever, Montesano looked like a different team defensively in the second half. After scoring 40 first-half points, Hoquiam was held scoreless for the first five minutes of the third quarter.
The Bulldogs slowly chipped away at the Grizzlies’ lead, while Hoquiam’s offense struggled to regain its first-half form. With 1:32 left in the third period, a free throw by Caleb Chastain capped a 16-4 Montesano run and tied the game at 44. Five different Bulldogs scored during that stretch, led by Usher with six.
“The kids made the adjustment,” Galloway said. “They decided to come out and play a little defense. We talked about some of the things that they needed to do and the kids just came out and performed. I’m really proud of them for that.”
“It was partly our shot selection (in the third quarter), but their defense made it tough for us to get good shots,” Eccles said. “Some shots didn’t fall for us. We were able to score a little bit better toward the end of the second half, but we struggled to get good looks, and a lot of it was because of their good defense.”
A trio of freshman had a big impact on the game for Hoquiam. Steen, Varner and Jack Adams III combined to score 29 points for the Grizzles. Varner also led Hoquiam with 11 rebounds.
Despite struggling to find his shot, Evan Newton contributed for the Grizzlies as well. The junior guard dished out a team-high eight assists and recorded three steals in the fourth quarter or overtime to help Hoquiam seal the victory.
Each team has one league game remaining before post-season play begins. Hoquiam will host Elma tonight and Montesano will travel to Rochester on Friday.
Hoq 23 17 7 10 7 — 64 Monte 16 12 16 13 4 — 61
Hoquiam (64) – B. Kelly 14, Newton 6, D. Kelly 15, Steen 14, Adams 9, Varner 6, Anderson, Brydon. FG – 27-62 (.435). FT – 9-16.
Montesano (61) – Truax 3, Usher 25, Chastain 4, Roy 16, Herzog 6, Hopsecger, Bialkowsky 7. FG – 20-54 (.370). FT – 17-28.