Just about all associated with the Class 3A Greater St. Helens League figured the Columbia River boys basketball team could go undefeated in league and district play last year.
The Chieftains did just that.
Not too many expected it to happen again.
But the Chieftains did just that — again.
Nathan Hawthorne scored 17 points, leading the Chieftains to a 49-44 victory over Prairie in the Class 3A District 4 championship game Friday night at Hudson's Bay High School.
Columbia River went 10-0 in league, then won this postseason game to make it 25 in a row against 3A GSHL competition.
"We lost 11 seniors last year. People really doubted us," Hawthorne said. "Not just to win league again, but to go undefeated, too? It's a big deal."
Added Torey Jones: "It was nice to go out with something to prove."
These Chieftains, so many new faces making plays, won the program's third consecutive district crown with Friday's win. Columbia River will get a first-round bye in next week's bi-district championship, then play a second-round game Wednesday at Hudson's Bay.
Prairie will play Foss at 1 p.m. Monday at Rogers High School in Puyallup in an opening round, elimination game.
There were five lead changes in the first quarter Friday night, but while the game stayed close throughout, River took the lead for good early in the second quarter.
Hawthorne scored 10 points in the first half, helping River to a two-point advantage at the break.
River's biggest lead of the night was eight points, early in the third.
Prairie cut it to three points three times in the fourth quarter but never could find a way to tie.
James Phillips, who led the Falcons with 20 points, converted a three-point play with nine seconds left. Joey Bean would make two free throws for Columbia River to seal the victory.
Jones finished with four points but made perhaps the defensive play of the night, blocking a Prairie shot with five minutes to play.
A pass to a wide-open Falcon in the key appeared destined to become an easy lay-up. Instead, Jones rotated for the block and rebound.
"The timing was perfect," Jones said. "I got the steps right, and I went up right when he shot it."
Jones said playing against a bigger team such as Prairie made it difficult for the River offense to score.
"With how big they are, you're going to have to grind out a win," Jones said. "We just all stepped it up on defense."
Prairie's Ronnie McPherson got a rebound and put-back to make it 42-39, but just 20 seconds later, Hawthorne responded for River.
"It's pretty special," Hawthorne said of being the leading scorer in a title game. "They have to focus on so many shooters. That just left me open. It's amazing when everyone on the floor can score. It's special, what we have going."
The Chieftains even impressed their coach.
"We thought we could win the league, but we never thought we could go undefeated," David Long said. "And to beat a quality team like Prairie three times ..."
The Chieftains made it happen, all season long, and once again Friday night.
COLUMBIA RIVER 49, PRAIRIE 44
PRAIRIE -- Koy Osborn 0, Jacob Davidson 6, Michael Stockbridge 3, Cameron Papworth 0, James Phillips 20, Mason Pack 4, Greg Bernash 3, Ronnie McPherson 8. Totals 15-48 (6-19) 8-17 44.
COLUMBIA RIVER -- Nathan Hawthorne 17, Joey Bean 9, Andrew Vickers 3, Sam Walker 0, Torey Jones 4, Spencer Long 9, Chad Pedigo 7, Alex Hansen 0. Totals 16-42 (6-20) 11-16 49.
Prairie 11 12 9 12--44
Columbia River 11 14 13 11--49