NACHES, Wash. — To say the Zillah Leopards had been looking forward to this stretch of the season — a Saturday night road game against fellow unbeaten Naches Valley, followed by a couple of SunDome Shootout games against Class 2A opponents next weekend — would be putting it mildly.
“The Naches team, Jon (Eldridge, Rangers coach) does a fantastic job with them, (they’re) well-coached,” Leopards coach Doug Burge said. “We knew this would be a good one on the road, a good test for us — and then coming in and playing a couple of Double-A teams in the Shootout, you know, those are good games for us. And this one obviously is.”
Added Zillah senior standout Brady Widner, “We were ready for these guys. They always give us their best fight.”
The Rangers did just that, but it didn’t make any difference. As the Leopards had done to their five previous rivals, Zillah made surprisingly easy work of this SCAC West showdown, riding Widner’s 22-point, nine-rebound, four-steal night to a 59-44 victory.
After a back-and-forth opening quarter, the visitors broke the game open with a 16-2 second-quarter, during which the Rangers hit just one of 10 attempts from the field and missed all four of their free throws.
“We missed a bunch of free throws in the second quarter, and we must have missed five or six lay-ins,” Eldridge said. “(The Leopards) play pretty good defense, yes, but we had a lot of open looks we just didn’t hit tonight.”
Yes, Zillah’s defenders did have a small part in that.
“It was a little bit of both,” Widner said. “We did play some good defense, but luckily they did miss some shots.”
The Leopards, meanwhile, were making them. Widner shot 7-for-14 from the field and was one of five Leopards to hit at least one 3-pointer, with Jared Ellis and Justin Dunsmore each hitting a pair of treys.
“Jared hit some big shots, Scotty (Burge), they both handle the ball and shoot very well,” Widner said. “Justin, Johnny, Anfernee (Cortez) and me, we can all rebound good and play pretty good defense. And I think defense will take us as far as we can go.”
The Leopards (2-0 SCAC West, 6-0 overall) certainly had to turn up the defense after the first quarter, during which 6-foot-6 Naches Valley senior Cameron Walker scored nine points, the last two of them giving Naches Valley (1-1, 5-1) an 18-16 lead. But he picked up his third foul midway through the second period, and with the 6-6 Dunsmore in his face the rest of the way, Walker managed just three points the rest of the way.
Zillah had foul problems of its own, but their bench was simply deeper than that of the Rangers.
“I thought the second quarter was crucial,” Burge said. “We had three of our starters on the bench with two fouls, and the guys (from the bench) held serve and that meant a lot. We didn’t light it up offensively during that time, but we didn’t give up on the defensive end.”
Riley Martin had three 3-pointers en route to 13 points for Naches, while Ellis and Dunsmore each scored 12 for the Leopards.
“It was sort of one of those games that wasn’t a pretty game to watch,” Burge said.
Maybe not. But, as tests go, this was certainly one Burge’s team passed.
ZILLAH — Burge 6, Cortez 7, Mengarelli 0, Justin Dunsmore 12, Brady Widner 22, Jared Ellis 12, Wallace 0, Hathaway 0, LaPierre 0, Watlamet 0, Delp 0. Totals 19-45 14-22 59.
NACHES VALLEY — Upton 3, Riley Martin 13, Williams 4, Whorton 8, Cameron Walker 12, Wells 2, Stillwaugh 0, Stoffer 0, Simmons 1. Totals 17-50 5-13 44.
Zillah 18 16 17 8 — 59
Naches Valley 18 2 10 14 — 44
3-point goals: Zillah 7-20 (Ellis 2-4, Dunsmore 2-7, Cortez 1-3, Widner 1-3, Burge 1-3), NV 5-15 (Martin 3-8, Walker 2-6). Rebounds: Zillah 37 (Widner 9, Dunsmore 8, Mengarelli 7, Cortez 5), NV 31 (Upton 11). Fouls: Zillah 18, NV 15. Fouled out: Williams (NV). Turnovers: Zillah 16, NV 17. Assists: Zillah 9 (Ellis 3), NV 8 (Martin 3).