From the Yakima Herald-Republic
In the aftermath of the SWX All-Star Classic, a smiling London Wilson stood on the court surveying his happy players with their friends and family.
“You want a big finish — things always end with fireworks; that’s why people stay until the end,” the Yakima boys coach said. “We had to give the fans what they wanted.”
That’s precisely what Yakima did Sunday.
After Valley fans were left disappointed with Yakima’s girls falling 84-62 to Tri-Cities in a game that was closer than that score indicated, the local boys staged a furious rally over the final 2 1/2 minutes to claim a dramatic 104-96 victory in front of a packed house at Yakima Valley College.
“We just told ourselves that we were not going to lose this game,” said Selah’s Elijah Pepper, who turned in an outstanding all-around game with a team-best 20 points, eight rebounds, six steals and three assists. “We have confidence in each other. We just had to step up defensively and get stops.”
That’s exactly what the quintet of Pepper, Kittitas’ Brock Ravet, Ellensburg’s Steele Venters, Zillah’s Antonio Salinas and Prosser’s Haden Hicks did when they entered the game as Tri-Cities was putting the cap on a 9-0 run for a 93-89 lead with 2:44 to play.
A Ravet 3-pointer a few seconds later not only stemmed Tri-Cities’ momentum, it ignited a Yakima squad that proceeded to rip off 11 straight points and 15 of the final 17 in a burst that featured a pair of steals and another Tri-Cities turnover.
Ravet scored seven of his 10 points and Pepper six in that closing surge to help Yakima improve to 22-6 all-time in the series.
“Defense makes our offense. We want to get out and run and to do that, you have to get stops,” said Venters, who put Yakima ahead to stay at 94-93 with a fastbreak lay-in following a Tri-Cities turnover. “I was a little worried (after Yakima fell behind) but I knew we could close it out. We wanted to win.”
“Coach said it was going to be a good game over the last three minutes,” Ravet said. “I’m just glad we were able to pull it out.”
The day didn’t start out as well for the Yakima girls, although they were in position to get its first win in the series since 2007.
Behind Sunnyside’s Ashlee Maldonado and La Salle’s Trista Hull, Yakima, which led at halftime before getting outscored 27-16 in the third quarter, whittled a double-digit deficit to 61-55 with just over five minutes to play and seemed to have momentum on its side. But Tri-Cities quickly squashed thoughts of a comeback with nine straight points to push the lead to 15 and Yakima, which struggled shooting all game long, was unable to respond.
“Their transition game was great and they really moved the ball well,” Yakima coach Adam Strom said of Tri-Cities, which leads that series 20-8. “But all in all, it’s an excellent event and all these girls deserved to be out there.”
“We had our chances, but they (Tri-Cities) performed well,” said Maldonado, who led Yakima with 15 points while adding seven rebounds and four steals.
Hull added 11 points and eight rebounds, and East Valley’s Natalie Andreas had eight points and six rebounds.
Beyond the disappointment of losing the game, Maldonado said she really enjoyed one final Classic.
“I’ve knocked heads with most of these girls over the years, so it was really fun to play with them for a change,” she said. “It was a great experience. It was great getting them all together to play.”