1A boys: Opportunity slips away from Zillah

March 4, 2012 by  

YAKIMA, Wash. — A championship can be won in the big moment, in the sensational play, in the final seconds.

It can also be lost gradually, as the strength wanes and the spirit sags, and you can see it slipping away as inexorably as a mudbank levee eroding away with the rising water. And the more frantic your efforts to stem the tide, the less ground you have to stand on until, finally, it’s all gone.

Zillah High School's Ricky Cuellar, left, Derrell Pascal, center and Dee Villanueva react as time runs out against Lynden Christian High School during the Washington state 1A basketball championships at the SunDome in Yakima, Wash. Saturday, March 3, 2012. (Andy Sawyer/Yakima Herald-Republic)



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That was how it must have felt for the Zillah Leopards in their 57-45 Class 1A state basketball championship defeat at the hands of Lynden Christian.

It didn’t happen at once. It wasn’t any one thing. But over 71/2 minutes of the second half, the tide turned in the Lyncs’ direction, and by the time the flow stopped, it was all over. And both teams seemed to know it.

“I knew once we started getting a lead, we had it,” Lyncs forward Dustin Brandsma said. “We’re too good a team to give it up.”

Brandsma’s back-to-back 3-pointers were a huge part of Lynden Christian’s 15-4 run over those 71/2 minutes, which turned a 23-23 deadlock into a 38-27 hole the Leopards would never be able to crawl out from under. And the way the run began turned out to be a foreshadowing of what was to come.

The Lyncs’ 6-foot-7 tournament MVP, Isaac Reimer, hoisted a 3-pointer that clanged off the front rim, then bounded through a sea of waving Leopard arms all the way back out to Reimer beyond the arc. He simply put it back up again, and this time was on target.

After a pair of free throws by Robert Slack, whose 15 points led Zillah, Brandsma made the first of his 3-pointers. Like Reimer’s trey, this one also felt like an omen of things to come — even to Brandsma, an admitted streak shooter.

“I’m off and on, they’re either falling or they’re not,” he said. “Tonight they were falling. I usually start out the game with a bad one, then they start falling after that.”

Zillah High School's Ricky Cuellar, left, and Derrell Pascal try to wrestle the ball away from Lynden Christian High School's Daulton Hommes during the Washington state 1A basketball championships at the SunDome in Yakima, Wash. Saturday, March 3, 2012. (Andy Sawyer/Yakima Herald-Republic)

So the next time Brandsma touched the ball, he fired up another 3. And buried it.

“Right at the big moment,” sighed Zillah coach Doug Burge.

Brandma’s 3-pointers, coming on the heels of Reimer’s second-chance trey, helped the Lyncs (24-4) carry a 32-27 lead into the final period — which opened just as badly for Zillah (23-4) as the second one had ended.

Derrell Pascal, the Leopards’ athletic 6-3 post — whose 10 points and six rebounds provided just enough of an inside presence to keep Lynden Christian from dominating the lane — picked up his third and fourth fouls within 19 seconds. With the big guy going to the bench, the Leopards would have to switch to their four-guard offense. Ordinarily, that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, since that ultra-quick quartet of Slack, Ricky Cuellar, Jace McKay and Brady Widner had been the very trigger that had unraveled top-ranked Cashmere in the Leopards’ semifinal victory on Friday.

But that rotation was unavailable. In a way, it was broken.

With 30 seconds to go in the first half, Widner had left the game with an ankle injury and spent the second half with his ankle heavily wrapped.

“I stepped on a guy’s foot,” Widner said after the game, hobbling off the court on crutches. “They said it might be a fracture.”

That left one fewer quick-legged guard to fly at the Lyncs’ ballhandlers, and one fewer weapon from Zillah’s arsenal since Widner is just as capable of hitting a 3-pointer as he is knifing through the lane.

“He’s definitely a big part of our scheme,” Burge said. “We still had confidence in our other guys, but we just couldn’t make our shots.”

Nor could the Leopards rattle Lyncs point guard Nolan Wolffis, whose stat-book line — four points, four rebounds and two assists — doesn’t begin to measure his contribution. He never did the one thing opposing point guards so often do against Zillah’s pressure: He didn’t get rattled.

“We never could get anything with our press,” Burge said. “Their guards did a great job against our pressure. It didn’t seem like they had any turnovers, hardly. Wolffis did a great job against our pressure.”

Wolffis, so keyed up after the game that he said it felt like he’d “eaten a ton of sugar,” knew the importance of his steadiness against the Leopards’ guards.

“They’re a lot quicker than I am, no doubt about it,” Wolffis said. “But I knew if I kept my dribble a little behind me, they couldn’t get to it without going through me and fouling me. That was my big thing: Making them guard me at my pace, rather than trying to beat them at their pace.”

Once Lynden Christian had its double-digit lead, it was all over. The Leopards never found their shot, going a dismal 13-for-50 (26 percent) from the field, hitting just one of 14 3-pointers and missing 11 of their 29 free throws.

The Lyncs, meanwhile, hit 20 of 21 free throws and Brandsma was a sizzling 9-for-13 from the field.

For Zillah, there would be no catching up on this night.

“We just never could seem to get over the hump,” Burge said. “We didn’t play our best game tonight. That’s how it goes sometimes.”

And sometimes it just slips away.

Filed under *Prep Spotlights*, All, Basketball (Boys), Featured Prep Sports, Featured Stories, Zillah


One Response to “1A boys: Opportunity slips away from Zillah”
  1. mjohnson says:

    Nice Season back to back State Championships games! Nothing to be ashamed of!

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