Morton-White Pass had its chances down the stretch but couldn’t quite complete the comeback as the Timberwolves were clipped 43-42 against Kalama in the 2B District IV boys basketball tournament Saturday at W.F. West High School.
MWP cut its deficit to two points with under two minutes to play, until Kalama’s two-time Central 2B League MVP Jackson Esary drilled an NBA-range 3-pointer to create a five-point cushion with just over a minute to go.
Junior center Josh Salguero was fouled on the Timberwolves’ next possession and drained two clutch free throws to cut the deficit to one. After getting the ball back with 12.9 seconds to play, the T-Wolves had one final shot at the buzzer, a midrange fadeaway that bounced off the backboard as Chinook players celebrated their second-straight district title.
“(Kalama) won districts last year and they returned virtually every player on that team,” Timberwolves coach Chad Cramer said. “We have a shot to win and we had them on the ropes. We ran the set perfectly, they just defended it really well. We did everything you’re supposed to do, it just didn’t happen.”
Despite the loss, it was an impressive showing for the Timberwolves, who trailed by as many as eight in the first half and six in the second half as they were plagued by turnovers.
“The first four minutes, they got under our skin,” Cramer said. “After that, we rebounded, but those first four minutes, you get down seven or eight and we’re fighting a battle the entire game.”
It was a crucial third quarter where the T-Wolves staged their comeback bid after trailing 27-20 at the break. MWP ripped off an 8-0 in the third to take its first lead of the game, 32-31, since scoring the first bucket of the game.
A lot of that was due to the Timberwolves’ vice-grip defense that limited every Kalama player not named Esary to five or fewer points. They knew Esary would get his — Esary finished with a game-high 25 points — but their game plan was to lock up every other Chinook.
“I think our defense went pretty well,” said MWP guard Leytan Collette, who finished with 10 points and was assigned the task of guarding one of the state’s most dynamic athletes. “(Esary’s) an MVP player, so pretty hard to guard him, but everyone else, none of them got double digits.”
The T-Wolves cut Kalama’s lead to two before Esary’s long-range 3 banked in and gave the Chinooks just enough breathing room to survive.
Salguero, who was facing double teams all night in the post, finished with a team-high 12 points to go with nine rebounds and five monster blocks. Gary Dotson added eight points, a team-high 10 rebounds and two blocks.
Now Morton-White Pass awaits its regionals seeding and matchup, set to be announced Sunday afternoon. Does Cramer think his team, that’s won 11 out of its 13 games, deserves a top-8 seed and a guaranteed spot at the state tournament in Spokane?
“1,000%,” Cramer said. “We beat everybody that’s beaten us except for Kalama. We took second in league in the toughest league in the state, and second at districts in the toughest district in the state.
“I’ll put it like this: If they put us as a lower seed in the bottom eight, they’re not punishing us, they’re punishing whoever we play.”