With just four weeks remaining until the state’s top Class 1A and 2A basketball teams converge upon the SunDome, it’s time to take a look at which of the Yakima Valley’s contenders stand the best chance of reaching a coveted berth in the final eight.
It won’t be easy for any of them. For some — in particular the survivors of the SCAC District girls tournament — just reaching the state tourney would be a remarkable achievement.
What, no Valley girls in the 1A bracket? It’s a possibility. So, too, is having two CWAC boys and two CWAC girls teams in the 2A final eight — or, for that matter, having none.
Of course, since the regular season isn’t even over, what’s “expected” to happen rarely pans out. Upsets happen in district tournaments, thereby relegating favorites to traveling to faraway district sites to play champions from other districts. That’s why we might conceivably see some state-title-worthy matchups a week early. And we might not.
But here are some ways things might play out.
Class 1A girls
Valley contenders: That reaching state will be so difficult for 10th-ranked La Salle (15-2), Zillah and Granger (15-3 and 13-5, respectively, going into their Thursday night showdown) is not because they aren’t good teams. Any one of them reaching the final eight is a trophy contender. Getting there, though, will be the problem, with the survivors of the absolutely loaded Caribou Trail League/Northeast A League bi-district awaiting them at regionals.
How the SCAC district tourney shakes out will depend a lot on the result of Friday’s Zillah-La Salle game, which could shuffle the seedings. But if the CTL/NEA bi-district goes as expected, it isn’t hard to envision this murderers’ row of loser-out regional games:
• La Salle, if it wins district, would likely face one of this group — No. 6 Okanogan (15-4), the defending champion; No. 8 Chelan (15-4), which starts three 6-footers; or Lakeside (15-4), which just handed No. 1 Freeman its only defeat.
• Zillah could be up against either No. 4 Brewster (18-1) or No. 1 Freeman (18-1).
• Granger could end facing No. 2 Cascade Christian, at 19-0 one of only two teams still unbeaten in Class 1A.
The favorites: Look for Brewster, led by stellar 6-foot guard Chandler Smith; Freeman, with four starters back from its 2012 state runner-ups; and Lynden Christian, which has the state’s best state-tournament resume and can put four 6-footers on the floor. Cascade Christian might fit in this group as well, but the Cougars’ regular-season schedule wasn’t as strong as what they’ll encounter in Tri-District.
Class 1A boys
Valley contenders: Top-ranked Zillah is the clear district favorite, after which a likely regional foe would be Cashmere — a team the Leopards routed at the SunDome in the 2012 state tourney — or No. 9 Chelan, which could pose some difficulty for Zillah. Still, the Leopards played well all season without injured senior guard Robert Slack, and with him back in the lineup they’re going to be tough to keep out of the SunDome.
Should Granger and, say, Naches Valley also emerge from district, likely regional opponents could be No. 8 Chewelah (16-3 and on a 14-game win streak) and No. 6 Okanogan (18-1). Ouch.
The favorites: You can expect to see defending champs Lynden Christian (13-4, no losses in 1A), led by 2012 player of the year Isaac Reimer, a 6-foot-8 inside-outside forward with more than 1,500 career points; No. 5 Cedar Park Christian (16-1), led by 6-foot-7 Evan Scholten (13.6 ppg), whose father Dwayne was the 1982 tournament MVP for that year’s champs, Lynden Christian; and No. 2 Seattle Academy (18-0), led by 6-4 Yaniv Shier (14.8) and guard Daniel Davydov (14.6). And Zillah, provided the Leopards get there.
Class 2A girls
Valley contenders: The teams with the best shot at advancing to regionals appear to be No. 3 Wapato (15-1) and No. 7 Ellensburg (14-2), two teams that play up-tempo, ball-hawking defense, and Grandview (13-3), which boasts arguably the 2A ranks’ best 1-2 offensive punch in Payton Parrish (26.4) and Marissa Caballero (18.6).
It wouldn’t be a stunner to see all three get through district, since the Great Northern League’s best team, Pullman, was routed 61-38 by Ellensburg at the SunDome earlier this year. But even if that happens, only two of the CWAC’s three surviving teams can make it to state since two would have to play each other in a loser-out regional game.
The favorites: Well, it’s just one favorite, really — top-ranked Mark Morris (16-2), which nearly beat 3A No. 1 Prairie and is led by sensational sophomore twins Kourtney (15.0 ppg) and Karley Eaton (13.5). Kourtney scored a school-record 46 points (on 19-for-22 shooting, including 9 of 10 3-pointers) one night after dishing out a school-record 16 assists. And those numbers are legit; coach Steve Rooklidge doesn’t pad his stats, which he compiles from game film. Kourtney averages 8.6 assists and Karley averages 4.3, and Longview Daily News sports editor Ben Zimmerman says the Eatons “are among the best passing basketball players, boy or girl, I’ve covered. Ever.”
The closest challenger might well be No. 2 W.F. West (Chehalis), although the Bearcats have already lost by 16 points at home to Mark Morris. Imagine the titanic matchup that might have been, though, had Nike McClure — a 6-2 junior post who’s already committed to Washington State — been approved to play varsity for the Bearcats after transferring from nearby Tenino. The eligibility appeal was denied and she spent the season as the state’s best junior-varsity player.
Class 2A boys
The best player in the District 5/6/7 tourney is arguably 6-6 Pullman forward Corey Langerveld, who had been held under 20 points just seven times en route to a 26.6 season average for the 17-1 Greyhounds. The best team, though, may well be West Valley of Yakima (16-1), which plays suffocating defense and has enough capable scorers that opposing defenses can’t focus on any one, two or even three players.
The CWAC seems to be a bit stronger than the Great Northern League this year; Pullman’s lone loss was to Ellensburg, and the only other contest pitting teams from the two leagues was a 59-37 blowout win by Yakima’s West Valley over Spokane’s West Valley.
Based on a likely scenario in tri-district, the regional play-in games to state could look like this: West Valley’s Rams against Clarkston or Wapato, and a possible Ellensburg-Pullman rematch ... provided Pullman can get past always dangerous Grandview at district.
The favorites: No. 2 Renton is undefeated (19-0) and No. 1 Lynden (17-1) is the defending champion. But four or five other teams could slip into the title conversation — like, say, West Valley.
You never know. Which is, of course, why they play the games.