CENTRALIA — The lights remained on at Tiger Gym’s Ron Brown Court on Thursday night, despite Hoquiam’s best efforts to shoot them out en route to a regional berth.
Knocking down nine 3-point shots in the first three quarters, the Grizzlies clinched their third regional appearance in the past four years by beating Elma, 62-44, in a District IV Class 1A Boys Basketball Tournament elimination contest at Centralia.
After beating Elma for the third time this season, the Grizzlies (17-6) will face Trico League champion Kalama for third place in the tournament at 6 p.m. Saturday at Kelso. This will be strictly a seeding contest, as both teams are assured of places in regional competition next weekend.
Kalama came from behind to nip King’s Way Christian, 49-47, in the other winner-to-state, loser-out game at Centralia.
The Eagles, who lost inside mainstay Chance Bremer to a concussion late in the first quarter, saw their season end at 12-10.
A return to regionals seemed remote for the young Grizzlies when they concluded the 2013 portion of their schedule at 2-5. But they’ve won 15 of their last 16 — a surge that HHS coach Curtis Eccles attributed to the rapid development of three freshmen in the customary rotation and the willingness of upperclassmen to accept the roles of their younger teammates.
Two of the frosh, starter Jerod Steen and reserve Jack Adams III, scored 11 points apiece Thursday. But two more experienced Grizzlies inhabited the most prominent roles in this contest.
Junior guard Evan Newton, who hit four of his team’s 3-pointers, led all scorers with 20 points. Senior post Blake Kelly enjoyed one of his finest all-around games with 13 points, 13 rebounds (eight of them off the offensive glass), three assists and two blocked shots.
Senior guard Ryan Collin topped Elma with 16 points.
Thanks to a cold fourth quarter after the outcome had been decided, Hoquiam’s final .436 percentage was less than sensational. The Grizzlies, however, were hitting at a 51 percent clip through three periods.
In diving parlance, the degree of difficulty of their shots was very high, as several of their successful attempts were launched over tight Elma defense.
“They really came to play tonight,” Eccles said of his troops. “We knew how difficult it was to beat a team three times in a season. But you’ve got to give credit to our perimeter shooters. They really hit their shots tonight.”
“We knew they were a good shooting team,” Elma coach Marvin Prince observed. “They made some tough shots and it’s tough to keep guarding them when they’re doing that.”
Steen opened the game with a three-ball as the Grizzlies tallied the game’s first seven points. Newton, Steen and Kelly later connected from beyond the arc as Hoquiam opened an 18-5 lead late in the first quarter.
The 6-foot-3 Bremer, a second team all-Evergreen 1A Conference selection, had already been sidelined after clashing heads with a teammate and at least one Grizzly during a scramble for a loose ball — a mishap that even Eccles acknowledged changed the dynamics, although probably not the outcome, of the game.
With Rashad Lorton and Kolton Emerson (a 6-7 sophomore who has spent much of the season on the JV team) providing energy off the bench, the Eagles launched one serious challenge.
Collin provided both a 3-point basket and a conventional three-point play during a 13-2 run that lifted the East County crew to within two, at 24-22, with 3:29 remaining in the first half.
Plagued by some untimely turnovers, Elma went scoreless for the remainder of the half. Two baskets by Newton, a Kelly jumper from the foul-line area and a pair of Jace Varner free throws enabled Hoquiam to restore a 10-point advantage at intermission.
The Eagles were still hanging within striking distance until the Grizzlies poured through five treys — three by Newton and one each by Adams and Steen — in the final 4:10 of the third quarter. That made it 55-38 and school was assuredly out for Elma.
Adams grabbed six rebounds as the Grizzlies won the boards, 35-21.
Lorton, ironically a transfer from Hoquiam, had seven points and four steals in a reserve role.
Although they failed notch their first post-district berth since qualifying for state in 2002, the Eagles made their deepest postseason run in several years.
Prince saluted assistant coaches Ken Witt, Carson Seaberg, Tyson Farrar and Ian Osgood and his players, including seniors Collin, Nauman, Lorton, Bremer, Ray Stark, Devon Gilman, Kai Hamilton, Tyler Davis and Austin Neary.
“They’ve been great role models and had great attitudes around school,” the Elma coach said. “They’re just great kids.”
Hoquiam 18 14 23 7 — 62
Elma 7 15 16 6 — 44
Hoquiam (62) — B. Kelly 13, Newton 20, D. Kelly, Steen 11, Brydon 4, Adams 11, Varner 3, Anderson, Oliver, Spradlin, White. FG — 24-55 (.436). FT — 5-7.
Elma (44) — Collin 16, Nauman 3, Stark 3, Gilman 3, Bremer 4, Lorton 7, Neary 4, Osgood, Emerson 4, Hamilton, Davis. FG — 16-46 (.348). FT — 8-9.