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Dave Nichols: A special week for Spokane-area high school basketball

UPDATED: Sun., March 3, 2019

The Colton Wildcats celebrate another State 1B victory on Saturday night at the Spokane Arena, a 51-43 victory over Pomeroy on March 2, 2019. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
The Colton Wildcats celebrate another State 1B victory on Saturday night at the Spokane Arena, a 51-43 victory over Pomeroy on March 2, 2019. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

It was a special week for high school basketball in Eastern Washington. Maybe not quite as special as some would have hoped, but special nonetheless in the grand scheme of things.

Twenty-eight teams from The Spokesman-Review’s coverage area qualified for the regional round of state on Feb. 22-23 across the six classifications. Of those, 27 qualified for play at the three state venues last week. And of those, 17 were still playing on Saturday – eight for state titles.

That only two took home the “gold ball” doesn’t diminish the feat.

The two that did hoist the state championship trophy and cut down the nets came from the largest and smallest classifications – and exemplify everything you want to model your high school basketball program around.

Gonzaga Prep defended its title with a second consecutive championship, a 69-43 win over Mount Si, in that program’s first state title game since 1977. Gonzaga-bound Anton Watson scored 33 points to earn tourney MVP and picked up his 100th win in the program.

“They’ve left behind quite a legacy,” Gonzaga Prep coach Matty McIntyre said on Saturday night while his nine seniors and one junior were cutting down the nets in the Tacoma Dome. “That’s got to be one of the greatest four-year runs in Washington state history.”

The Bullpups went to four semifinals in Watson’s four seasons, with two third-place finishes in his freshman and sophomore years to go along with the back-to-back championships. It was McIntyre’s third title in his career with G-Prep.

The Colton girls secured their 10th title in the past 11 years, rallying from a double-digit deficit to beat rival Pomeroy 51-43.

Most of those girls started playing the same system they use at the high school level when they began play in the fourth grade. It’s part of their basic education, almost as much as math and history.

“There is no secret to Colton basketball,” said senior Jordan Moehrle, who had 20 points in the title game. “It’s just having a winning mentality, and that we’re not taking anything for granted. You’ve got to go after it every day.”

For the first time in history, a Greater Spokane League team earned a berth in each of the boys and girls 4A and 3A title games, with Mt. Spokane’s boys and girls earning title-game trips for the first time in program history.

“I’m really proud of our kids, for sure,” Mt. Spokane girls coach David Pratt said. “It’s hard to walk into that locker room and say ‘Sorry, we didn’t take first place.’ And to lose by two? It’s hard to swallow. But regrets? No way.”

“For me, I’m so proud of them,” Wildcats boys coach David Wagenblast said. “It didn’t go our way tonight, but they’re the greatest group of kids. Great community. I’m very blessed.”

Lewis and Clark senior Jacinta Buckley, headed to UNLV in the fall, was obviously disappointed that the Tigers couldn’t improve the school’s 4-1 record in title games, but chose to look on the positive side.

“We’re still coming home with (a trophy),” she said. “We made it here, and I’m so proud of our girls. We fought hard, and that’s all we can ask for. We didn’t give up. I’m proud of that.”

Similar sentiments were shared by the East Valley girls, St. George’s boys and Liberty girls, all state runners-up after a very busy day of tournament games in Tacoma, Yakima and at the Arena.

On a personal note: The first thing they teach sportswriters is that there’s no cheering in the press box. For the professional and college level, that’s verbatim – no exceptions.

But covering high school sports is so much more personal – the people you cover are part of the community you live in.

I can’t tell you how often a coach or administrator or parent will come up to me and thank me. It is very much appreciated, but it surprises me every time I hear it. They are thanking me for simply doing my job.

But from their end, I’m highlighting their kids – giving recognition for an accomplishment or memorializing their story. It’s a big deal to all involved.

And when you get to that level, it’s hard not to pull for some of these kids.

There were two players over the weekend – I won’t mention names so as not to embarrass them – who hugged me after our interviews were over. I was surprised at first, but it was instinctual and genuine on their part.

After reflection, I realized that I had become a part of their lives. For a high school sports reporter, I suppose, there’s no greater compliment.

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