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Saturday, August 17, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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State 2A boys: Relaxed Clarkston aims to bowl over competition

There’s at least one thing Clarkston boys basketball coach Justin Jones is sure of when his Bantams are in Yakima this weekend for the State 2A basketball tournament.

There will be time spent at a bowling alley.

“We have a pretty robust bowling competition going on right now between our players,” Jones said. “We do competitive bowling, we keep score, we have teams, there’s a winner and there’s losers, so I’m sure there’s no doubt we’ll end up at a bowling alley some time down in Yakima.”

The Bantams (23-1) are one of the favorites to win the eight-team tournament at the Yakima SunDome, along with Mark Morris of Longview. Clarkston is confident it can win it all.

Clarkston opens against Fife at 2 p.m. today.

Jones attributes Clarkston’s confidence to a high level of chemistry and looseness among his players.

“I never have to worry about my guys being tight,” Jones said. “Even the Sammamish game, before the game they’re wrestling around in the locker room and they just have so much fun. But as soon as they get on that floor, they’re very serious about the task at hand.”

Clarkston trailed Sammamish by nine heading into halftime of a loser-out, winner-to-state game in Spokane last Saturday. Panic wasn’t a feeling in the Clarkston locker room.

The Bantams held Sammamish to five points in the third quarter and held on in the fourth quarter for a 63-59 win to punch a ticket to state.

“It showed us that we’re a team that responds,” junior Trevon Allen said. “We’ve done it a couple times this year. That’s been one of our mottos is to respond, not to give up.”

Allen, who owns a scholarship offer from Idaho and is receiving recruiting interest from Washington State and Eastern Washington, led that effort with 22 points, 16 in the second half.

He was one of many players who remained at Clarkston’s Kramer Gym well after practice ended on Tuesday afternoon just to shoot around and hang out.

Players finished a 3-point shooting drill to end practice. When Jones turned around to see if they’d finished, they were running around, laying it up and just randomly shooting.

He assumed they’d finished, which there was no reason to think otherwise.

“Coach being the way he is, he gives leeway to the team. If we respect him and the things he asks us to do immediately, we keep the trust,” Allen said. “He can be intense every once in a while. We go in at half and if we can do better, he’ll jump on us real quick. He knows we’re a quick-responding team. It shows that he has trust in us and we have trust in him.”

The second-half comeback against Sammamish shows that the Bantams know when to harness how loose they are into execution on the court.

“It’s almost like a maturity thing,” senior Trevor Sperry said. “It’s like, ‘All right, it’s time to go.’ We know when to put it on and we do. We execute it very well.”

Clarkston’s confidence heading to Yakima may also have to do with two of the top teams in the state having been eliminated in regionals. Clarkston eliminated a ranked Sammamish team, while Mark Morris eliminated third-ranked Lynden.

“We just took it as an opportunity because we knew, if we were able to get past this game, we knew two teams out of the top four would not be in state,” Jones said. “So we took it as an opportunity and fortunately we came out on top.”

Two-time defending state champion Pullman will be absent from the state tournament, having been upset by East Valley in its district tournament.

Clarkston dominated the Great Northern League this year, defeating Pullman three times in the process after having been handled by the Greyhounds in the two years prior.

“I think what we’ve gotten from Pullman is we’ve battled them for the last two or three years and it’s really helped us,” Jones said. “We talk about our battles with Pullman and hope we can put it to action this week.”

Clarkston missed out in 2013 during Pullman’s first title, and finished fourth last year after losing its opener against Lake Washington and beating Mark Morris in the fourth-place game.

“Experience is one of our biggest tools going into that state tournament,” senior CJ Johnson said. “Teams that have won it like Pullman – they won the last two years – their first year (there) three years ago, they (lost twice).”

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