Coaches believe the best, even when facing the worst.
Bellarmine Prep boys basketball coach Bernie Salazar could be called the eternal optimist, given that three weeks ago his Lions were in deep trouble when it came to the possibility of getting into the postseason.
Was he sure they would pull out of it?
“I was confident,” Salazar said with a big grin. “Do I have a choice? You hope for the best.”
But best is right now for the Lions. Winner of six games in a row, Bellarmine Prep stamped its ticket to the West Central District playoffs with a 70-56 victory over fast-tempo Yelm in Tacoma.
The Lions (11-9, 7-5 4A Narrows League) will play South Kitsap (14-6, 7-5) on Saturday at Stadium High School for the league’s No. 2 seed to the district tournament – with the winner earning a home game. Yelm (11-9, 5-7) just missed reaching the postseason by one game.
There is a reason the Tornados run at warp speed — they don’t have traditional banger-type inside players. Bellarmine Prep does with Rex Bodoia (23 points, 19 rebounds) and Will Wolf (12 points, 17 rebounds), who really hurt Yelm in the game’s most crucial moments.
Yelm seemed to trail by double digits the entire game — the deficit was 14 points (35-21) late in the first half. Bodoia was responsible for giving Bellarmine Prep the early cushion with his 10 first-quarter points.
“What we do defensively, we have to leave one (player) open, and he happened to be the guy,” Yelm coach Jordan Barnes said. “He wasn’t a factor when we played the first time, so we might have overlooked him.”
Yet, as efficient as the Lions were in the first half, making 14 of 26 field-goal attempts, the Tornados charged back with a furious run to start the third quarter.
They scored on seven of their first nine possessions, capped by Chad Davis’ short jumper, to cut their deficit to 42-39 at the 5:03 mark.
But Bodoia answered with a putback basket for the Lions, and Wolf scored on the team’s next trip to make it 46-39.
Yelm made one more charge late in the fourth quarter as Elijah Fuller capped a 6-2 run with a 3-pointer with 2:55 to go to trim the margin to 60-55.
But a steal and a basket by Mar’kese Jackson, who added two free throws on Bellarmine Prep’s next possession, pushed the Lions’ lead to 64-55 with 1:34 to go.
“I am really proud of our guys,” Salazar said. “It has been a great comeback. We were in some great battles.”
Fuller tallied 17 points in his final game. Sophomore Christian Davis had a team-high 20, and is a building block for what looks like a promising future at Yelm.
“Deep down, they are upset, especially the seniors,” Barnes said. “But the kids see the future. They see potential with the way we play.”
• Olympia’s 44-43 victory over Central Kitsap, led by 11 points apiece from Jona Spiller and Laura Snodgrass, means the Bears are the No. 4 seed into the West Central/Southwest bidistrict girls basketball tournament.
• Callan Russell’s game-high 17 points lifted Timberline to a 41-30 3A Narrows League girls basketball victory over Thurston — the Blazers’ eighth consecutive victory. The Blazers (13-6 overall, 10-1 3A Narrows) are on pace for at least a share of the league title with Wednesday’s regular-season finale against Lincoln still to be played.
• Aberdeen held Capital scoreless in the final quarter on its way to a 44-30 2A Evergreen Conference girls basketball victory.
• The Central Kitsap boys handed Olympia a 68-59 loss to end the Bears’ season at 11-9 overall.Staff writer Meg Wochnick contributed to this report. Todd Milles: 253-597-8442 todd.milles@ thenewstribune.com