CHEHALIS - Tired legs and disappointment were eased just a little when Northwest Christian players received cheers and hugs from their fans after exiting the locker room.
For the third time in four days, the Navigators played a tough opponent in a down-to-the-wire game in the 2B District IV boys basketball tournament.
And though Pe Ell handed Northwest Christian a 64-59 defeat Monday afternoon at Chehalis High School, the Pacific 2B League champions secured fourth place and a berth in the regional round of the state tournament Friday night. Northwest Christian’s previous – and only other state berth – came in 2008.
As the No. 4 seed from the 2B District IV, the Navigators (18-6) face Chief Leschi on Friday night in a loser-out game at Mount Vernon High School. The time has yet to be announced.
Pe Ell advances to the regional round of state as the No. 3 seed.
“The past three games have been the toughest games we’ve had,” said senior guard Cole Van Lierop, who led all scorers with 20 points. “We haven’t had these types of games. We’ve learned a lot.”
Northwest Christian earned a first-round bye into the district tournament after winning the Pacific 2B League title.
After a quarterfinal win over Mossyrock (74-54), the Navigators lost to Adna, 56-53 in the semifinals Friday night, followed by a wild 67-63 overtime victory in Saturday’s loser-out game against Morton/White Pass in what Navigators coach Rick Fox called a “gut-wrenching win.”
Trailing by 14 Friday going into the fourth quarter, Northwest Christian fought its way back with clutch shooting and defense. Senior Brian Chase’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer sent the game to overtime tied at 54. From there, the Navigators outscored the Timberwolves 13-9 in the extra four minutes to extend their season.
Northwest Christian trailed by eight points with 51.2 seconds left against the Trojans on Monday, but Chase & Co. knew it wasn’t over.
“I never felt like we were out of it,” Chase said. “We were playing hard.”
Pe Ell, the defending 2B state champion, started pulling away with 7-2 run to grab a 59-52 lead with 3:05 remaining on Dylan Toepelt’s tip-in.
Toepelt (16 points), Tyler Ratkie (16) and Hank Robinson (18), the reigning 2B state player of the year, combined for 50 of the Trojans’ 64 points.
The fourth quarter didn’t go as well as the Navigators would’ve liked, as they hit two field goals in a five-plus-minute span.
But their outside shooting nearly saved the day in the closing minute, as Chase and Van Lierop hit back-to-back 3-pointers to slice the deficit three at 62-59 with 10.9 seconds left.
Chase, Peter Morgan and Zach Carras each had nine points for Northwest Christian, which shot 39 percent (22-for-56) from the field and made seven 3-pointers.
“We felt like we beat ourselves tonight,” Fox said. “The biggest concern was our shot selection. If we hit a few of those (3s) early on. ... ”
Van Lierop said playing in tough district tournament games will bode well for the Navigators.
“We’ve learned how to push through these wins,” he said. “It feels good being a senior, and it feels good for all the seniors on the team.”
Meg Wochnick: 306-754-5473 firstname.lastname@example.org www.theolympian.com/prepsportsblog