BATTLE GROUND – Three straight years, the King’s Way Christian boys basketball team has faced the win-or-go-home pressure of a regional state tournament game.
Three straight years, the Knights have gotten the job done.
King’s Way beat Vashon Island 53-40 on Saturday at Battle Ground High School to clinch yet another trip to Yakima for the 1A state tournament.
But this year is different.
“Nobody expected us to be here,” King’s Way coach Daven Harmeling said. “Nobody thought we’d win league or expected us to compete at districts.”
The two previous years, King’s Way rode the Division-I talent of Kienan Walter. Now at the University of North Dakota, Walter led the Knights to back-to-back top-five finishes.
This year’s team lost seven of its first nine games. But since a loss to La Center on Jan. 6, the Knights have won 11 of their last 13.
“You’ve got to have an identity as a team,” Harmeling said. “If you don’t know who you are by this time of year, you’re usually losing those games.”
King’s Way has found its identity in a balanced offense that was on display Saturday. Skyler Freeman led the Knights with 15 points, Karter Graves added 12, Joe Mills 11 and Matt Garrison 10.
“This year we had to use a little more grit,” Mills said. “Last year we could rely on Kienan to score. This year it’s a little more grit and grind.”
Saturday, King’s Way (15-10) faced a team that had won seven straight prior to losing in the District 3 championship game. Vashon Island (13-9) hung close until midway through the second quarter.
That’s when King’s Way went on a 12-2 run, with Graves scoring six of those points. That gave the Knights a 29-17 halftime lead.
“That was huge for us,” Garrison said. “We definitely had momentum. We came out a little slow. It happens. But we definitely needed to get a lead.”
Vashon Island opened the third quarter with two straight 3-pointers to pull within 29-23. But King’s Way responded with an 11-2 run. After that, the Knights never let Vashon pull closer than 10 points.
Up next, King’s Way heads to the Yakima SunDome, where the Knights are among the final 12 teams in the state tournament. King’s Way faces Warden in a loser-out game at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.
The previous two years, the Knights had a trophy-or-bust mentality.
This year, the goal is to play as hard as possible, have fun and see what happens.
“There aren’t any expectations,” Mills said. “That’s what’s awesome about it. We can go in there as underdogs. And if we don’t do anything, nobody expects us to. There’s no pressure on us. That’s how basketball is supposed to be.”
KING’S WAY CHRISTIAN 53, VASHON ISLAND 40
Vashon Island – Langston Dziko 5, Sam Briggs 0, Noah Edmonds 8, Jahmiah Hoogen 2, Will Guard 0, Jacob Chavez 0, Tommy Delargy 0, Rhys Jennings 6, Ethan Danielson 0, Casper Forest 17, Colin Pottinger 2. Totals 14 (6) 6-6 40.
King’s Way Christian – Nick Pulicella 5, Jared Jarvi 0, Chris Cotton 0, Karter Graves 12, Joe Mills 11, Matt Bryant 0, Matt Garrison 10, Karson Jones 0, Skyler Freeman 15, Koby Kimball 0. Totals 19 (2) 13-17 53.
Vashon 11 6 11 12–40
King’s Way 15 14 11 13–53