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Sports >  High school sports

District 8 4A/3A basketball: Larger tournament ready for first showing in the Arena

UPDATED: Thu., Feb. 15, 2018

Anton Watson, of Gonzaga Prep, drives to the basket on Jacob Pfennigs, of Post Falls, Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017, in Post Falls, Id. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Anton Watson, of Gonzaga Prep, drives to the basket on Jacob Pfennigs, of Post Falls, Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017, in Post Falls, Id. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

The only constant in life is change.

So it is for the Greater Spokane League basketball tournaments.

The GSL and Mid-Columbia Conference have combined under the umbrella of Washington Interscholastic Activities Association’s District 8 to form what in years past might have been described as a “subregional” tournament between the Spokane-area schools and the teams from the Tri-Cities.

Not only that, but the tournament has moved from a higher-seed-host tournament to bringing the championship and regional qualifying games to the big stage of the Spokane Arena.

The District 8 4A and 3A basketball tournaments start on Thursday, featuring four games including the 3A title games for both boys and girls. Then on Friday, the 4As will decide champions and third-place teams, and 3As will play for second place – all for berths at the regional playoffs the following weekend.

Herb Rotchford, GSL/WIAA District 8 director, was a catalyst for the changes.

“I can’t tell you how excited we are we were able to make this a reality,” Rotchford said on Tuesday. “We’ve been working on this for close to two years. For it to finally come together, being able to host this at the Spokane Memorial Arena is very significant.

“Because it does showcase the top 3A and 4A boys and girls basketball teams in all of Eastern Washington.”

It couldn’t come at a better time, with some of the best basketball teams in the state on tap.

“Quite frankly, we have two 4A boys teams that are both undefeated at 22-0 and they could be the two very best in the state,” Rotchford added. “This could be a preliminary in terms of what happens at the state tournament.”

Not only does the region boast two boys teams that are int he top 5 in the state’s RPI calculations and have been ranked nationally this year, but it’s also home to the nation’s No. 4 girls program.

“The (Central Valley) girls are a once in a generation team, I think,” Rotchford said. “When you watch them play and you understand the nuances of the game, you realize just how talented and what a high skill level they have and how well they’ve been coached over a period of time.”

Rotchford said the bigger picture is bringing the two leagues together in the same tournament.

“What’s really important is because the MCC joined District 8 – so now we have 18 of the largest 3A and 4A high schools in Eastern Washington in District 8 – the district championship now becomes a qualifier for the state tournament. So there’s a lot of stake.”

As if the excitement and pressure of a district tournament wasn’t enough, now there’s even more playing it at the Arena.

“That’s the kind of high-stakes situations that good teams and good coaches and good players – and fans – want to experience,” Rotchford explained. “So we’re just really happy about being able to put this on.”

Unlike other tournaments of this nature in the area and across the state, the District 8 tournament at the Arena will be played on on court, not broken up on two floors to divide interest.

“We did that with purpose,” Rotchford said. “It focuses each game – the crowd, the students, the entire arena – it is a showcase for both teams playing on the floor.

“When you have double floors, like what you find at the B tournament or at the state tournament, I think it really diffuses the energy, it diffuses the excitement of what’s happening. Having the single floor is really a big deal.”

The tournament is doing some presale and Rotchford expects good day-of-game attendance. He added that Spokane-area basketball fans better jump on tickets because he expects good crowds coming up from the Tri-Cities.

“Talking to my colleagues in the Tri-Cities – they’re coming. They travel really well.”

Rotchford spoke of the burgeoning rivalry between Gonzaga Prep and Richland.

“When you have a natural rivalry with Gonzaga Prep and you have the situation where they are both undefeated, I think there’s a lot of impetus and reason for people to come up,” he said. “Heck, it’s only three hours. It’s going to be a high level of basketball.”

The current agreement calls for the District 8 tournament to be played at the Arena for two years, with the hope that the MCC can establish sponsorship in order to play future tourneys at the Toyota Center in Kennewick.

“The plan is to do two years up here, two years down there,” Rotchford explained. “And then it may be we rotate every year.”

He also said there is consideration to expand the tournament even further.

“There’s also the Big 9 possibility,” Rotchford offered. “I really believe that we have a window of opportunity right now in the next couple of years to bring in the seven schools from the Big 9. So it could truly be an Eastern Washington 3A/4A regional basketball championship.

“With the number of 3A and 4A schools that we’re talking about, heck, we would control a quarter of the state bracket. What we’d end up seeing is it rotating every year – one year up here, one year in Yakima at the Sun Dome, one year in the Tri-Cities at the Toyota Center.”

But Rotchford said the ‘big-game’ basketball experience is the most important aspect of it.

“That was a real selling point,” he said. “In this situation, you’re playing in the Arena, which gives you a great experience for playing in the Tacoma Dome. Then you move right into state-level play.

“That was a real selling point, for sure, as far as the coaches were concerned in terms of giving up their home courts at their high school gyms for the opportunity play at just a quality venue.”

He said there were some reservations from coaches giving up that home-court advantage for a district final, but those concerns were quickly quelled.

“There were reservations about that. But they also recognized this was an opportunity that they shouldn’t let go. Not only for them, but for their kids and for their communities. So they worked through that and got to a point where they essentially said – in a consensus way – is that this makes sense. We ought to be doing this.”

Rotchford downplayed the idea that moving to the Arena was a money-making venture.

“The thing that’s been so impressive to me is how our local business partners have stepped up to support our effort to bring our district championships to the Arena. Without their support and their sponsorship we couldn’t do it. They all have come on board and all have recognized the importance that it plays.

“I think we’ll break even and maybe even make a little. But the point is we’re able to put this together and provide a quality even at a quality arena for the kids that are able to participate in it.”

4A boys

Richland (MCC No. 1) vs. Gonzaga Prep (GSL No. 1): Gonzaga Prep (22-0, 14-0), rated No.1 in Class 4A by WIAA’s RPI calculations, is led by Gonzaga commit Anton Watson. The 6-7 junior was GSL MVP this year and averaged 22.2 points and 8.6 rebounds. All-league first-team junior Jamaari Jones in a powerhouse inside (12.2 ppg), while senior guard Sam Lockett is an inside-outside threat. Junior Jacob Parola is the point guard and a defensive catalyst and sophomore Liam Lloyd provides an outside threat. Senior Devin Culp, a Washington Huskies recruit for football, is the sixth man and provides size at 6-4, 255. G-Prep is ranked No. 24 in USA Today’s national poll.

Richland (22-0, 14-0), rated No. 4 by WIAA, dominated its league, averaging 82.7 points per league contest and winning by an average of 39.9 points per game. The Bombers’ dynamic duo of Cole Northrop and 7-foot-2 Riley Sorn were big against Ferris in their semifinal matchup: Northrop scored 28 points on 7 of 12 shooting from beyond the arc, and Sorn finished with 21 points, 11 rebounds and three blocked shots. Richland has spent time in the USA Today National Top 25 this season.

4A girls

Lewis and Clark (GSL No. 2) vs. Central Valley (GSL No. 1): Central Valley (22-0, 14-0) played a different game than the rest of the GSL this season. The Bears, rated No. 1 in Class 4A by WIAA, have lost one game in the past three seasons and have been on a mission after getting bounced in the second round of state last year by Bellarmine Prep. CV beat its league opponents by an average of 44.4 points. The Bears are led by defending Gatorade state player of the year Lexie Hull and twin sister Lacie – both committed to Stanford next season – and Hailey Christopher, who is signed at Idaho. CV is ranked No. 4 nationally by USA Today.

Lewis and Clark (15-7, 11-3), rated No. 14 by WIAA, finished second in the league and averaged nearly 60 points. Its league losses were to CV twice and Gonzaga Prep late in the season. The Tigers are led by juniors Jacinta Buckley, Kaylee Bishop and Dominque Arquette, plus freshman Andie Zylak.

3A boys

Kamiakin (No. 2 seed) vs. Mt. Spokane (No. 1 seed): Despite its impressive record, Mt. Spokane (16-5, 8-4) takes a ding in the state’s RPI, coming in at No. 21 in Class 3A. The Wildcats are paced by a pair of shooters: 6-3 junior Jerry Twenge and 6-5 freshman Tyson Degehart.

Kamiakin (16-5, 12-2 MCC) in rated No. 14. The Braves are led by Champ Grayson, an Eastern Washington football recruit. He has posted career highs twice this season, registering 28 points in a win over Kennewick on Jan. 19, which locked up its league’s top 3A seed with five games to play.

3A girls

Kamiakin (No.2 seed) vs. Mt. Spokane (No. 1 seed): Mt. Spokane (12-9, 7-5) suffers the same fate as the boys team when it comes to state ratings – they finished No. 21 in the RPI. The Wildcats are led by a quartet of talented juniors: twin guards Aspyn and Averi Adams, swing Alyssa Powell and post Emily Nelson.

Kamiakin (19-2, 13-1) lost once in league, to 4A champ Chiawana, and to Big Nine power Moses Lake, with an impressive 70-54 win over Lewis and Clark on Dec. 9. Oumou Toure scored 30 points in the win over LC and 23 in the Braves’ 47-37 semifinal win over North Central on Tuesday.

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