YAKIMA – This is starting to get serious.
The W.F. West High School boys basketball team arrived at the Yakima Valley SunDome under the radar, seeded eighth among the 12 teams advancing from the regional round of the Class 2A state tournament.
They were given late start times against teams who were favored to beat them.
The ninth-ranked Bearcats (23-4) are afterthoughts no more.
After beating top-ranked Selah, 57-54, on Thursday night in the quarterfinals, W.F. West (23-4) will have another 9 p.m. game on Friday. Only this time, the opponent will be defending state champion Foss with a berth in this season’s title game on the line.
“It’s magical,” Bearcats coach Chris White said. “It’s about being mentally tough and physically tough, but we’ve gotten a few nice little miracles.”
Selah (22-2) jumped out to the start most expected, forcing White to call a timeout in the first quarter when the Bearcats fell behind, 12-3. That would turn out to be the Vikings’ largest advantage.
The lead changed hands seven times as Selah’s highly-touted 6-foot-3 swingman Elijah Pepper had a hot-and-cold night.
Pepper made only two of 13 first-half shots and finished 8-for-30 from the field, and 4-of-15 from 3-point range. But he showed up down the stretch and finished with a game-high 26 points.
With the score tied at 39-39 late in the third quarter, Pepper pulled up from well beyond the arc to give the Vikings a short-lived lead. It signaled the start of a stretch in which he would score 14 straight points for Selah.
White isn’t convinced knowing where the shots are coming from helps against a stellar, go-to player.
“It can be pretty dangerous,” he said, citing Zac Olmsted of North Kitsap as another centerpiece player the Bearcats have had to contend with this week.
The final points in Pepper’s personal run gave Selah its final lead, 53-51, with just over two minutes to play.
Brandon White, who finished with a 13-point, 14-rebound double-double hit the last of his three 3-point baskets from the right corner to put W.F. West up, 54-53.
A Wil Middlebrooks free throw tied it briefly for Selah but Jordan Thomas, the hero of Wednesday’s win over North Kitsap, dropped in an athletic cross-under layup to put W.F. West ahead to stay.
A free throw by Bailey Cooper — who also hit a pair of crucial foul shots just before Thomas’ game-winner on Wednesday — forced Selah to go to Pepper for 3-point tries down the stretch, but he missed each one.
“We’ve got really good balance, we’ve got three guys who get double figures, but we never know who’s going to step up,” Chris White said.
Cooper, who led the Bearcats in scoring with 14 points, didn’t take the responsibility of going to the line with the game in the balance lightly.
“I try to take deep breaths, (free throws) are really nerve wracking,” he said. “There’s a lot of people and a lot of noise. I just try to stay calm.”
Though individual moments in a game can be scary, Cooper and his teammates aren’t ruling out anything now that they’re guaranteed at least a fifth-place trophy.
“We were fired up tonight. No one though we were going to win,” he said. “But we came out there with heart and we did it. We think we can go all the way. We’ve got the heart and the faith.”
NO. 9 W.F. WEST
NO. 2 SELAH
W – Wollan 6, Thomas 10, B. White 13, C. White 6, Cooper 14, Yarter, Dobyns 3, Baker , Jones 2, Speck 3
S – Herting 6, Donato 5, Morford 8, N. Pepper 8, E. Pepper 26, Middlebrooks 1, Rasmussen