ELLENSBURG — It was a highly contested back and forth thriller of a regional matchup between the Knights and the Bellevue Christian Vikings on the hardwood at Ellensburg High School Saturday as the game wasn’t decided until the final minutes. But after the final whistled had blown it was Royal walking off the court with a 68-61 win.
“We knew it was going to be a battle,” coach Ray Valle said. “It was good clean basketball — I think both teams played well and deserved to win.”
Both teams shot the ball well, sinking J’s from close range and from beyond the arc. The Vikings got on the board first. Corbin Christensen answered back with a trey that kick-started a 23-17 run for the Knights.
Gage Christensen opened second quarter scoring with a 3-point bucket and Royal led 26-19. The Knights pushed the score to 31-22 with just under five minutes to go in the first half of play. Bellevue Christian, not about to lie down and roll over, closed the gap to 39-36 on a basket by Ken West with seven tics on the clock.
A 5-0 Royal run to start second half action drew a quick time out from the Vikings head coach. The pause in play to regain focus worked to perfection as two trey’s and a 2-point bucket from West put Bellevue Christian up top 47-46 with three minutes left in the third quarter.
The Knights took a 50-47 lead into the final eight minutes, but it didn’t hold up long as a mistake on a inbound pass and a steal by the Vikings put Bellevue Christian out front 53-50 with six minutes to go.
Back-to-back buckets by Corbin Christensen, a trey from Sawyer Jenks and a give and go from Owen Ellis to Gage Christensen made it 59-53 Royal with 3:03 on the clock.
The Vikings got two back on a short range shot from West. A basket from beyond the arc by Jenks and a Corbin tip in off an Isaac Ellis miss gave the Knights a bit of breathing room, 64-55. Bellevue’s Tyler Jump drained a 3-point bucket to get the Vikings within six, 64-58 with 49 seconds left in the game.
Bellevue had fouls to give and used them, which put Isaac Ellis at the charity stripe in a 1-1 situation with 33 seconds to go. He sank both shots and Royal stretched its lead to eight points. West drilled a trey from long distance with 19 seconds to play and the Vikings still had hope. But a bucket by Gage Christensen off a full court inbounds pass sealed it for Royal and the Knights moved on to State.
Royal had three players hit for double-figures led by Corbin Christensen’s 18. Gage Christensen added 15. Sawyer Jenks finished with 14. West and Jump finished with 18 each for the Vikings.
“West is a tough player that can do a lot from anywhere on the floor, but Isaac Ellis was up for the challenge in defending him. He got caught a few times but learned from it and locked in,” Valle said. “It was great to see some of our other players step up in this stage. That’s what it takes to win games like this – not always going to be the same players making the biggest impact, and I think that’s a huge advantage.”
The win over Bellevue Christian automatically advances Royal to the quarterfinal round of the Hardwood Classic State Championship Tournament on March 1 by virtue of the Knights No.4 RPI ranking. Royal will match up with winner of the Montesano-Northwest School game, which will be played Wednesday, Feb. 28.
“I don’t know much about Monty and little about Northwest, but I do know that any team that’s made it this far is going to be tough,” Valle said. “It does make it difficult not knowing who you’ll play till day before but that is State basketball. That’s what the entire year is for — to throw in different strategies so when you get to this point you’re just brushing up on them and have them ready for whatever you want to use against whoever you’re playing. The boys are excited and ready to make a business trip out of this.”