When AJ Easley looked around the Rochester High School gymnasium Tuesday night, he saw a larger-than-normal crowd: community members, students, parents. True fans who might not’ve been there in the past.
Younger generations of kids held up their hand-made signs and wanted his players’ autographs after the Warriors’ 49-39 win over Kalama in the 1A district play-in girls basketball game.
That was a big night for the Warriors. They won their first playoff game in 12 years.
“I had to stop and tell them you guys are doing something people haven’t done around here for a long time,” said Easley, who is in his fifth season as coach of the Warriors. “It was an incredible sight.”
Now, Rochester (14-7), which tied for second in the 1A Southwest Washington Evergreen Division at 8-4, enters the double-elimination round of the 1A District IV tournament against Woodland (18-2), the runner-up from the Trico Division, at 6:30 tonight at R.A. Long High School in Longview.
For Easley and Rochester, it’s been a growing process to get to this point. Easley, a Tenino High graduate who works at Grand Mound Elementary, spent one season as the junior-varsity coach
at Black Hills before taking over the team at Rochester.
Three years ago, Rochester went winless. One of its losses was by 90 points. Easley’s patience was tested; talent was coming. Last season’s mark of 5-15 was a step in the right direction.
“We knew we had a plan,” Easley said.
That plan has been youth. The team this season has one junior and no seniors. Three players average double figures in scoring – sophomore Keeli Demers (15 points per game), freshman Joni Lancaster (13 ppg) and Sierra Seymour (10 ppg). Lancaster’s career-high 20 points, including 18 in the second half, helped propel the Warriors to the win Tuesday.
Lancaster has stepped up her scoring since junior Allisha Leischner, the team’s top scorer from a season ago, went down with a season-ending knee injury New Year’s Day.
“We got younger and got better,” Easley said.
Rochester faces a Woodland team that suffered its only losses to top-ranked and undefeated Castle Rock. But the teams have some similarities. Woodland’s lineup also is young. But the Warriors will try to pull off an upset and win for the ninth time in 10 games.
“I don’t think we’re there yet, but we’re definitely getting closer,” Easley said.
POSTSEASON THIS WEEKEND
Regional wrestling takes place Saturday at various locations, headlined by the 2A Region III tournament with teams from the Evergreen Conference and SPSL starting at 9:30 a.m. at Tumwater High School. The 4A regional, featuring Yelm and Olympia, begins at 10 a.m. at Snohomish High School; the 3A regional, featuring North Thurston, Shelton and Timberline, is at 10 a.m. at Bonney Lake; the 1A regional tournament starts at 10 a.m. at Hoquiam and the girls regional tournament is at 10 a.m. at Battle Ground. … In gymnastics, Olympia (4A), North Thurston and Timberline ( both 3A) will compete at the West Central 4A and 3A/2A bi-district meet, starting at 9:30 a.m. Saturday at Mount Rainier High School. … Shelton, North Thurston and Timberline will compete in the 3A West Central District III boys swimming meet today and Saturday at Hazen High School. Start time both days is 3:30 p.m. … Capital and River Ridge will compete at the 2A District IV boys swimming meet, which starts at 4 p.m. today and wraps up at 1 p.m. Saturday in Longview.
KGY WEEKLY SPORTS SHOW
Olympia’s KGY 1240-AM will begin an hour-long sports talk show every Friday from 10-11 a.m. beginning Feb. 22, hosted by high school sports play-by-play team Brent Bryant and Keith Clark. Bryant says the main focus will be local high school sports as well as branching out to college and professional sports. The duo will have interviews and also take calls from listeners.Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473 firstname.lastname@example.org theolympian.com/southsoundsports @megwochnick