Jensen Rye finally played to the full length of his 6-foot-9 body Saturday.
The Ferris senior scored a game-high 19 points to go with two dunks and two assists as the visiting Saxons bounced back from a draining loss to Gonzaga Prep two days ago to capture the District 8 4A championship over the Bullpups, 55-54, in one of the more well-played boys basketball games this season.
It’s the Saxons’ first district title since 2008, when they won their second straight state title.
The victory vaults Ferris (18-3) into the subregional final against No. 1-ranked Richland (21-0) next Friday at Ferris. Tipoff is at 7.
Gonzaga Prep (17-4) plays host to Central Valley (16-4) on Tuesday to decide a second berth to the subregional. The game starts at 7. CV stayed alive by eliminating Mead (13-8) 63-48.
Ferris 55, Gonzaga Prep 54: The Greater Spokane League’s leading scorer, Cody Benzel, was limited to six points and one field goal, all in the second half, but his two free throws with three seconds to go secured the title.
The Bullpups’ defense, particularly that of Ryan Alexander, made it difficult for Benzel to take shots. He made just 1 of 7.
What the Bullpups were able to do to Benzel they couldn’t do in accounting for Rye.
The Saxons used a couple new wrinkles to get Rye the ball in the post, and he delivered. He had 11 points in the final quarter.
A good thing, too, as Prep was riding the shoulders of the shortest guy on the court, 5-7 point guard Sam Dowd, who had 11 points in the final period – most coming on his trademark drives to the basket where he found a way to use his athleticism to find seams in the Saxons’ defense.
There were six lead changes in the fourth as the teams matched each other seemingly possession for possession.
Prep’s final lead came when Dowd finished his toughest drive on an acrobatic move in the air on a shot he had to alter as Rye slid across the key. The Bullpups led 54-53 with 19 seconds remaining.
After the teams traded time outs, Benzel got the ball near the left elbow and started to go up for a jumper when he was fouled.
“The fans got their money’s worth on that one and they did on Thursday, too,” Ferris coach Don Van Lierop said, alluding to the 61-55 victory by Prep that decided the league title when the Bullpups rallied from a 13-point deficit.
Rye picked up the slack Saturday.
“I don’t know if the season had quite played out like he was hoping – and some guys would quit pushing,” Van Lierop said, giving credit to assistant coach Matt Tollett for his season-long work with Rye. “You could tell Wednesday that his practice was noticeably different. He was the difference maker.”
Rye said he knew the Saxons were going to win Saturday. Even though it was a disappointing loss Thursday. Even though they had to watch the Bullpups cut down the net on their home court.
Saturday, the Saxons cut down the net at Prep.
“(My teammates) got me the ball in the right places,” Rye said.
Benzel was thankful that Rye had his back.
“He stepped up,” Benzel said. “He’s been improving every game this season, especially in this last stretch. He’s been an X-factor. He’s been working on his game really hard.”
The teams exchanged runs in the first half before junior guard Murphy Butte came off the bench to bury a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Saxons a 25-24 lead at halftime.
Brendan McClary led Prep with 16 points and five rebounds and Dowd had 15 points. Kyle Monasmith led Ferris with eight rebounds.
CV 63, Mead 48: Two nights after the Panthers knocked the Bears out of a share of the league title and spot in the district final, CV got a measure of revenge. With the game tied 24-24 at halftime, the Bears outscored Mead 19-2 in the deciding third quarter. Adam Chamberlain led CV with 25 points and Cameron Tucker added 16. Thomas Kautzman led Mead with 10.