Elma’s Rod the Rifle starred in unforgettable state tourney game

Nearing the end of my 40th season of covering prep basketball, there are many teams, players, coaches and games that have left a lasting impression — especially regarding the Class 1A state tournament — but perhaps the most fascinating and dramatic contest took place in 1970 when I was a senior student manager for the Highland Scotties.

The game didn’t involve us, since we were then an emerging program with little state experience, and that year won our first game before losing the next two.

But at least we got to watch other games in the old University of Puget Sound Fieldhouse, which would have been the perfect venue for that event had it been a few hundred seats larger.

Years later, while covering the tournament for The Daily Olympian, I recall walking through the pass gate for the Friday night semifinals while fans and parents from places like Colfax and Cashmere waited in line, uncertain if they’d even get in. And many of them didn’t.

But in 1970, when I was still four years away from beginning my career, the game I’ll never forget took place on a Thursday afternoon in the second round. It involved pre-tournament-favorite Elma and defending champion Castle Rock, two Class 1A heavyweights and one superstar in the person of the Eagles’ Rod “The Rifle” Derline.

A 6-foot-4 guard with a quick release and remarkable range — he went on to Seattle University and later played two seasons with the Sonics — he was without question one of the purest shooters in tournament history.

But even as The Rifle fired away at an amazing pace, the big and strong Rockets hung with Elma into the final seconds and eventually forced overtime, tied at 68.

Derline, at that juncture, had scored 40 points.

And remember, there was neither a 3-pointer nor a shot clock back then.

Elma coach John Donahue, however, chose to hold the ball after a quick attempt to score in overtime. The Rockets, meanwhile, sat back in their zone defense.

So while Elma’s point guard stood with the ball near midcourt, the clock ticked away with the crowd abuzz in anticipation.

As I recall, the Eagles called a timeout with about 30 seconds left, then called time again with about 18 to go.

Everyone knew Derline would get the ball, but a precious few realized who would take the last shot.

Sure enough, Derline got the ball and dribbled away, watching the clock as time wound down. With about six seconds left and Castle Rock poised to contest his shot, he maneuvered around a couple of defenders, rose from the top of the key and … passed to a teammate in the corner.

The player, Greg Joines, was wide open, and his 20-footer got nothing but net with two seconds left, prompting a wild celebration and sending Elma into the semis with a 70-68 victory.

The title game, which the Eagles lost 78-63 to archrival Raymond with the Seagulls’ Pat Rogers doing a legendary job of defending Derline, was memorable, too.

But few who witnessed the Elma-Castle Rock game will forget it.

Five years later, when Derline was a reserve guard with the Sonics and I was sent by The Daily Chronicle of Centralia to Detroit for Seattle’s first-ever NBA playoff series, I interviewed The Rifle in his hotel room.

As we spoke of the game Derline’s roommate, 7-2 center Tom Burleson, became increasingly interested.

When I asked Derline if he realized he’d scored 40 points that day, Burleson said, “Forty, Derline? You went for 40 in one game?”

“Yeah,” Derline said, “I did. But the best play I made that day was the pass on the last play.”


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