YAKIMA, Wash. - For two days the Zillah boys felt like caged animals.
They were winning games in the Class 1A state tournament, but they were uncomfortably measured wins. There was a restrained edge to things, like they were playing somebody else’s game.
But on Saturday the Leopards got loose and ran.
And didn’t stop until the ladders came out and the nets came down.
Locked in a duel with King’s Way Christian midway through the third quarter, Zillah suddenly found its highest gear and unleashed a stunning 22-2 run that led to the highest winning championship score in 42 years — a 90-68 runaway victory before a thunderous crowd in the SunDome.
“We were pulling out wins but it didn’t feel like Zillah basketball to us. To then play our best game in our last game, that means everything,” said senior Cesar Diaz, who was an unstoppable force with 25 points on 11-for-15 shooting. “We got a little emotion going in the second half and everything started getting hot. It was contagious, and that’s what Zillah basketball is.”
Both teams shot the lights out in the first half and even though the Leopards led only 43-39 at the break they knew the pace was in their favor.
Somebody was going to get tired first, they were certain, and it wasn’t going to be them.
“We knew a big game was coming,” said senior Antonio Salinas, the tournament MVP. “We’re a team that’s used to seeing the ball going through the hoop, so it was hard in the first two games when we didn’t shoot well. But we were still getting W’s, and I just knew we were ready to hit it big. Fortunately that came tonight.”
With a 50-44 lead midway through the third quarter, it was Salinas’ 3-pointer that ignited the monster run, which saw Zillah score on 10 of 11 possessions en route to ballooning its lead to 72-46 early in the final period.
The Leopards had hoped to wear down the Knights, who were playing in their fourth straight game here and coming off a heated duel in a one-point semifinal win over King’s.
That’s exactly what happened.
“We felt sooner or later the pace and speed would get to them,” said coach Mario Mengarelli. “We have so many guys who can score from different angles and we were getting the shots we wanted. When were playing at that speed and everybody’s involved, that’s true Zillah basketball.”
For the previous two days, the Leopards weren’t feeling that so much.
They shot 41.2 percent in a much slow-paced quarterfinal win over Bellevue Christian, then dipped to 38.5 with only three 3-pointers in Friday’s semifinal grinder over La Center.
But in the championship game they ran into a hot King’s Way crew that enjoyed running and shooting, too, and for over the half the game it was a draw. Until Zillah accelerated at precisely the same time King’s Way paused for a breath.
As a result, Zillah’s numbers went big, making 36 of 63 shots — 57.1 percent — with 10 3-pointers and five players in double figures. Salinas had stellar floor game with 17 points, six rebounds and six assists, Brock Ellis pitched in four triples, and Sebastian Godina nearly had a double-double with 18 points and nine boards.
“If we could run, run, run we believed we could wear them out because we’re used to that,” Ellis said. “When we run our shots fall and we finally got the pace we wanted. We stayed focused and got it done.”
Diaz and Weston Ide, who had 29 points and 11 rebounds in the first two games, were named to the all-tournament team along with Salinas, the MVP.
These Leopards earned Zillah’s fifth state championship and second in the last three years, finishing the season with a 26-1 record.
“This was definitely hard because we were fortunate enough to win one as sophomores but we fell short last year (with a third-place trophy),” Salinas said. “We’ve had a countdown to this for the whole year since then. We wanted this so bad and we were ready to get it.”
KING’S WAY CHRISTIAN — Khalfani Cason 17, Kobi Cason 11, Koenders 9, Bra. Metz 8, Bry. Metz 9, Snider 0, Ke. Cason 0, Packer 0, Bryce Dodge 10, Woody 2, Frahm 2, Meek 0. Totals 21-49 18-20 68.
ZILLAH — Cesar Diaz 25, Antonio Salinas 17, Brock Ellis 14, Sebastian Godina 18, Ide 4, Vance 0, Magana 0, Van De Graaf 0, Kibbe 0, Avila 0, Hibbs 0, Claysen Delp 10. Totals 36-63 8-12 90.
King’s Way Chr. 24 15 7 22 — 68
Zillah 24 19 24 23 — 90
Highlights: Bryson Metz (KWC) 3 rebs, 4 assts; Diaz (Z) 3 rebs, 4 assts; Salinas (Z) 6 rebs, 6 assts; Godina (Z) 9 rebs; Delp (Z) 4 rebs, 3 assts.