MATTAWA — It was touch and go Thursday night at Warden, but the Wahluke High School boys basketball team unleashed an unbelievable comeback to win the game and capture the SCAC East championship.
Along with the title came the East’s No. 1 seed in the SCAC district tournament, which opens Friday night with a home game. Wahluke, 16-3, will host 7-5 Naches. Win or lose, the Warriors will play Connell, 11-8, or LaSalle, 10-9 on Saturday.
Those records of the west side teams may not appear to be noteworthy, but they don’t matter. The East has struggled for years to get past the West’s big four to state.
The key for the Warriors will be to focus on one game at a time. If they win their first two, they’ll be qualified for the state tournament. All that will be left to decide the following week is the seeding.
However, if the Warriors lose twice this week, they’ll stay home for the rest of the season.
Wahluke played three games last week, two against Warden and one at Burbank. It was a tough row to hoe, but they won twice to take their first league crown since the 2004-05 season.
The first game, played in the Wahluke gym, was a loser. Warden outscored the Warriors, 43-34, in the middle quarters to post a 70-64 victory and tie for the league lead.
Wahluke was led by the big 3 of Sergio Pineda, Ricky Cabrera and Nathan Buck. Pineda scored 18 points and grabed seven rebounds. Cabrera had 17 points, four rebounds, two assists and two steals. Buck had 13 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and two steals.
Unfortunately for Warrior fans, the loss came on senior night. Coach Clayton Buck praised the senior players and their families for their dedication to Wahluke High the game.
“The game was close all the way through,” coach Buck said. “Credit to the Warden offense for not missing many shots. We played a good all around game, coming up short in the end.”
Two nights later on the Warden floor, it appeared for three quarters that Wahluke’s revenge hopes would not be fulfilled. The Cougars were leading 52-41.
Then the Warriors threw up a combination of intense defense and high speed offense to blow past the Cougars, 34-21 in the final frame to post a 75-73 win.
“In the first half, we had trouble knocking down mid-range jumpers,” coach Buck said. “We went into the locker room and identified some key adjustments.”
The Warriors hit the floor in the third quarter in a man-to-man full court pressure defense. It slowed the Cougars down, and Wahluke starting hitting shots that were not falling in the first half.
The pressure also tired the Cougars, and the turnovers started coming in the fourth period. At the same time, Wahluke heated up, connecting on five 3-point shots and nine of 12 free throws.
“It was an awesome team defense to seal the comeback win,” coach Buck said.
Pineda was the hottest of the Warriors with 26 points and 12 rebounds. Cabrera had 15 points, four rebounds, five assists and three steals.
Abraham Olivares contributed nine points and two steals. Nathan Buck had eight points, three assists and two steals. Ulysses Gonzalez had seven points and three rebounds. Alex Valdez had six points and five rebounds, Francisco Espindola had two points and Josh Gatica had two points.
The win secured only a one-game lead for first place. The Warriors still had to claim the title on Saturday at Burbank. That they did with relative ease, 77-61. The Warriors broked from a 36-36 halftime tie with a 41-25 second half.
Cabrera put up a career night, scoring 36 points, corralling eight rebounds, handing out four assists and making six steals. Cabrera’s big explosion came in the second half, when he scored 28 points.
Pineda scored 16 points, grabbed two rebounds and made three assists. Nathan Buck had eight points, eight rebounds, six assists and four steals.
Valdez scored six points and grabbed six rebounds. Abraham Olivarez had four points and two assists. Shad Fayard had three points, Gonzalez had two points and Josh Gatica had three points.
Friday Wahluke will play Naches at home at 7 p.m. Cost of admission will be $6 for adults and $4 for students with ASB. On Saturday, the tournament will move to Wapato and Toppenish, with opponents and times TBD.