Plainsmen team up for district crown

Balanced effort gives Evergreenthe title over Union

By Greg Jayne, Columbian opinion editor

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According to Evergreen boys basketball coach Brian Witherspoon, his team's most important goal in any given game is to have four players score in double figures.

That strategy worked to perfection Saturday as four Plainsmen hit the mark in a 64-60 win over host Union, giving them the title in the Class 4A district tournament.

Most important, all four primary scorers β€” along with sophomore Robert Franks β€” made big plays down the stretch as Evergreen (12-10) earned the district's No. 1 seed to next week's bi-district tournament.

"I always had a vision of being able to do it," said Witherspoon, whose club started the season by going 3-7 in non-league play. "They just gained a lot of confidence as we gained wins, once we started getting on a roll."

That confidence showed down the stretch against Union (15-6). Despite losing twice to the Titans during the regular season, games in which Union pulled away late in each contest, Evergreen came up with the crucial plays Saturday:

• Robert Franks made a three-point play with 3:43 to go, pulling the Plainsmen into a 55-55 tie.

• Jalen Ballard made a 3-point shot for a 58-55 lead.

• Andrew Morris made two free throws for a 60-55 advantage, completing an 8-0 Evergreen run.

"I just think they made more plays tonight," Union coach Maco Hamilton said. "Down the stretch, they made big shots and we didn't."

Following a 3-point shot by Union's Tyler Copp, who had a game-high 20 points, the teams exchanged possessions in which nobody could find the basket.

That left it to Evergreen junior Jahmil Johnson to provide the next important moment. With the shot clock running down, Johnson split the defense down the middle of the lane and scored a difficult reverse layup for a 62-58 lead with 36 seconds remaining.

"I just drove," Johnson said. "He jumped at it, and I altered my shot. It's practice and repetition."

Following a rebound basket by Union's Seaver Whalen, Evergreen's Andrew White iced the game with two free throws with six seconds to play.

The final tally? All five Evergreen starters scored at least two points during a 12-5 run to close the game.

"We kept our heads up and didn't get down," Ballard said. "Last time, they made a run and we got our heads down."

Keeping their heads up allowed the Plainsmen to overcome Copp's 17 second-half points. Micah Paulson, who finished with 19 points for Union, scored eight after halftime, and Kyle Mercer contributed five rebounds and two assists in the final two periods.

But they couldn't quite match Evergreen's performance late in the game.

"The game is about runs," White said. "The key was to keep our composure."

Oh, yeah. About those scorers. Johnson led Evergreen with 15 points, while Ballard and Morris scored 14 apiece and White added 12.

Their coach wouldn't want it any other way.