When the week began, no one expected the W.F. West High School boys basketball team to win the Class 2A state championship.
When they won their first three games at the Yakima Valley SunDome to advance to the state title game, their opponent raised doubts yet again. Lynden had defeated the Bearcats by 27 points just eight days before, in the regional round.
In the end, the Bearcats fell just a subpar first quarter short of upending the top-seeded Lions on Saturday afternoon, losing a 57-53 game that was in doubt until the final two minutes. They held onto the positives from three upsets in three nights over North Kitsap, Selah and Foss to reach the last day of the tournament.
“This group of guys, this group of coaches and the community is family for life,” coach Chris White said. “The lessons we’ll get from this will surface for the rest of our lives. That’s better than any gold ball.”
W.F. West managed just five points in the first quarter and fell behind, 27-11, in the second quarter on a floater by Lynden’s Clayton Whitman, who shared game-high scoring honors with teammate Christian Zamora and the Bearcats’ Brandon White with 17.
But the Bearcats responded with a 7-0 burst, fueled by five Bailey Cooper free throws, to trail by 10 at the half.
In the locker room, concerned about the three-point shooting of Zamora and Lions’ guard Blake Silves, Chris White make a risky adjustment that paid off, going to a 3-2 zone defense.
“We’ve never done it in a game before. Ever.” he said. “I challenged my guys to stop the perimeter threat. The tough thing is the 3-2 leaves the guys on the baseline more vulnerable. You’ve got to be more physical and I thought our guys took care of business.”
When Brandon White followed his own missed shot to cut the Lions’ lead to 37-34 with the first basket of the fourth quarter, the Bearcats were within one possession for the first time since the opening minutes.
Twice more, W.F. West cut the lead to two or three, but could never tie it or go ahead. With two minutes to go, Zamora had his dribble stolen, but immediately stole the ball right back and went in for an and-one layup, giving Lynden a 49-42 cushion that held up.
In addition to Brandon White, who also had a team-high 9 rebounds, Cooper, with 14, and Jordan Thomas, with 12, reached double figures for W.F. West. Thomas had 7 rebounds and 3 steals in addition to his scoring.
The Bearcats left the locker room understandably disappointed, not willing to settle for the moral victory. But Chris White acknowledged the accomplishment.
“It shows the resiliency and the grit that these guys have. You can’t have nine lives forever, but we can hold our heads high knowing we did our best,” he said.
WF West5 131421 - 53
Lynden1414920 - 59
WFW -- Wollan 3, Thomas 12, B. White 17, C. White 3, Cooper 14, Dobyns 4, Speck.
L – Eisner 6, Silves 9, Marsh 2, Whitman 17, Zamora 17, Heppner 4, LaBounty, Walker, Baar 2, Bode, Parcher, Kettels.