It was a first for Northwest Christian guard John Graham and the third in a row for the Northwest Christian boys basketball team at the State 2B championship game Saturday.
Graham scored the game-winning basket with 6.2 seconds remaining – his first in an organized game – and Northwest Christian became only the second B-level boys basketball team to win three consecutive championships by beating previously undefeated Toutle Lake 42-41 at the Arena.
“This was the best,” NWC head coach Ray Ricks said of the third consecutive championship win.
It certainly was the most dramatic. In the Crusaders’ previous two championship victories, they beat Republic and Wahkiakum by six and eight points, respectively.
This one went to the wire.
With only seconds remaining in the contest and Toutle Lake clinging to a one-point lead, Ducks guard Luke Lindquist was fouled and headed to the line in hopes of extending his team’s lead to three points.
But Lindquist missed the front end of the 1-and-1 and NWC’s Matt Zandbergen hauled in the rebound. He quickly outlet the ball and the Crusaders ran the break. Graham streaked down the left side of the floor and received a pass in stride. He broke toward the center of the key and used the hoop to shield his defender from him as he put in the layup.
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” Graham said of the shot. “I haven’t really processed it yet.”
The Ducks had the opportunity to respond, with Brandon Hoff bringing the ball up the floor with the chance to win the game. He pulled up between the foul line and the 3-point arc, but his shot was blocked by Zandbergen to end the game.
“Having the gold-ball experience from the past two years was a huge factor in this game,” Ricks said.
Despite NWC’s experience, the Crusaders struggled on offense all game and Ricks said his team was outplayed for “two or three quarters.” They trailed headed into the fourth and did not score in the quarter until Jared Descoteaux hit a 3-pointer with 4:58 remaining.
Both teams were unable to seize control of the contest, trading baskets for the next few minutes. But with about 1:17 remaining Graham provided the game-changing play.
Hoff dribbled the ball near midcourt with Graham playing pressure defense. Graham dove for it and was able to swipe the ball from Hoff.
“That was the momentum shifter,” Ricks said.
In the skirmish for possession, the Crusaders went over-and-back, turning the ball over. According to Graham, it didn’t matter though.
“Everybody believed after that that we could do it,” he said.
NWC standout Chase Ramey had another difficult night, scoring only seven points and again deferring to teammate Zandbergen.
“Matt packed us,” Ramey said of Zandbergen, who finished with a team-high 17 points. “They didn’t have any answer for him down there.”
Ducks head coach Eric Swanson credited Zandbergen’s efforts and said his team should have used fouls to limit his activity in the post. In the fourth quarter, TL had two fouls to give but hesitated to take action on several possessions.
“You throw it in to the big guy and he drop-stepped and it was too late to foul,” Swanson said. Though the Ducks finished with a second-place trophy, Swanson said that his team was left feeling unsatisfied.
The Crusaders, meanwhile, look to satisfy another goal: a fourth straight championship. NWC only graduates two seniors and will benefit from the scoring and leadership of both Zandbergen and Ramey next year.
“We’re losing two guys, two leader-seniors,” Ramey said. “But the future’s bright.”