KENNEWICK – How about a fifth time, a true rubber match, in Tacoma – say next Saturday night?
The Gonzaga Bullpups evened the season series at 2-2 with the Mead Panthers and captured the 4A regional boys championship Saturday, 67-63 at the Toyota Center.
It was another entertaining game similar to the other three. For the Bullpups, the win avenged a 53-50 setback to Mead in the District 8 final.
Gonzaga Prep (23-2), fourth at state a year ago, and Mead (19-6), will be joined by Walla Walla (22-5) and Davis (20-7) at state, Wednesday through Saturday. Walla Walla topped Kamiakin and Davis upset Richland in loser-out games.
Mead had the better part of G-Prep for a little over three quarters. A 3-pointer by Brendon Myers matched the Panthers’ biggest lead at 55-47 with 6 minutes remaining.
That’s when Mead’s offense stalled and the Bullpups got untracked.
A basket underneath by tournament most valuable player Ryan Nicholas pulled the Bullpups even at 57-57 with 3:10 to go. Two free throws by Chris Sarbaugh gave G-Prep the lead for good at 59-57 at the 2:35 mark.
G-Prep made 10 of 18 foul shots in the final 2:35 to hold off Mead.
“Once they snatched that lead from us we never got it back,” Mead coach Glenn Williams said. “I told the kids in the locker room that they played some magnificent basketball until that last stretch. We just didn’t execute and we probably turned the ball over too much there and didn’t make them pay at the foul line. That was the difference.”
That along with the sizeable inside play of the 6-foot-7 Nicholas, who finished with a game-high 28 points.
“When it counted in the fourth quarter we stepped up and got it done,” Nicholas said. “We stepped up our defense and we played well on the offensive end, too, so it was an all-around good game.”
The finish overshadowed a solid effort for three quarters by Mead.
The teams battled to a near-even start in the first quarter with Mead taking a 17-16 lead into the second quarter. Then the Panthers took a 35-31 lead into halftime.
“The kids are down, but I told them they could learn from this,” Williams said. “If this helps better prepare us for state, then this isn’t a setback.”
Three players finished in double figures for Mead. Aaron Dunn led with 15, Myers had 14 and Bo Tully chipped in 12.
The final 4 minutes was what G-Prep coach Matty McIntyre had waited all game to see.
“They were making shots,” McIntyre said of the Panthers. “I thought we did a pretty good job defensively and we kept looking at each other and said ‘man when are they going to start missing’. We were hoping to wear them down in the course of four quarters.”
Sarbaugh had six points in the Bullpups’ 14-2 run that gave G-Prep a 62-57 lead with 1:39 to go. Sarbaugh had 12 points, six rebounds, five steals and four assists.
McIntyre wouldn’t mind playing Mead again.
“That would be a lot of fun,” he said. “I have a ton of respect for Mead. They’re well-coached and their kids are tough as nails. I couldn’t see a more fitting way if we’re lucky enough to go into championship game and play them. I think both teams would want that in the worst way – a rubber match.”