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La Center boys can’t quite steal King’s crown, fall 51-48

Wildcats push defending state champs to brink

By , Columbian Sports Editor
Published:
8 Photos
La Center guard, Jackson Leslie (15), defends King's Knights' Nate Kleppe (22), during the second round of the WIAA 1A boys state tournament on Thursday, Mar. 2, 2017, at the Yakima Valley SunDome. King's Knights defeated La Center Wildcats 51-48.
La Center guard, Jackson Leslie (15), defends King's Knights' Nate Kleppe (22), during the second round of the WIAA 1A boys state tournament on Thursday, Mar. 2, 2017, at the Yakima Valley SunDome. King's Knights defeated La Center Wildcats 51-48. (TJ Mullinax/for The Columbian) Photo Gallery

YAKIMA — Down by six with a minute to play and their leading scorer on the bench, the La Center boys could have bowed to the reigning kings of Class 1A basketball.

Instead, the Wildcats made the two-time defending state champs sweat on their throne.

La Center fell to King’s of Seattle 51-48 in the quarterfinals of the 1A state tournament Thursday at the SunDome.

La Center hadn’t played in the quarterfinals since 1998. It hadn’t advanced past regionals since 2003.

Yet here were the Wildcats, taking a team that has played in the last four 1A state title games to the wire.

“I think it says a lot about our character and how our coaches have taught us,” La Center senior Matt Baher said. “They don’t want us to give up. We fight until the end, as you can see.”

Baher’s 3-pointer pulled La Center within 46-45 with 20 seconds left.

After King’s made two free throws, the Wildcats had a chance to tie. But King’s intercepted a pass near the top of the key, forcing La Center to foul with 6.4 seconds left.

Even then, La Center made it interesting. Hunter Ecklund’s 3-pointer cut the lead to 50-48 with 2.5 seconds left. But the Wildcats couldn’t get the steal they needed on the inbounds pass. King’s was fouled with 0.2 seconds left and made one of two free throws.

“On the bright side, you don’t want to play your best game on Thursday, and that was not our best game,” King’s coach Rick Skeen said. “And I say that saying La Center played us really well. I don’t want to take anything away from them.”

King’s was without Gonzaga-bound Corey Kispert. The 6-foot-7 MVP of last year’s state tournament suffered a season-ending foot injury on Feb. 1. Still, the No. 4 seeded Knights were a tough matchup for the No. 6 seeded Wildcats.

With five players 6-foot-3 or taller compared to two for La Center, King’s had 16 offensive rebounds. The Knights had 15 second-chance points to none for La Center.

“That’s a great team right there,” La Center coach Jeremy Ecklund said. “That’s what we just talked about in the locker room, how proud I am. For us to have them on the ropes like that and to step up to that challenge just speaks volumes about what this team has accomplished.”

King’s (22-5) looked like it might gradually pull away, opening a 35-26 lead midway through the third quarter. But 3-pointers by Baher and Hunter Ecklund pulled the Wildcats within 37-32 headed into the fourth.

Jake Wise, who leads La Center with 20.6 points per game, fouled out with 2:44 to play. Yet, the Wildcats still refused to fold.

Ecklund, a freshman, led La Center with 15 points. Baher added 13 points and Wise had 12.

The Wildcats (17-6) are still alive for a trophy. They face No. 7-seed Warden in the fourth-place semifinal Thursday at 12:15 p.m.

“We’re going to forget this one right now,” Jeremy Ecklund said. “The boys don’t want this to be over yet. We can play two more games. We want to maximize our time here.”

KING’S 51, LA CENTER 48

LA CENTER (17-6) — Shaydon Amstutz 0, Jon Eastman 0, Jake Wise 12, Joe Bork 3, Avery Seter 5, Jackson Leslie 0, Matt Baher 13, Hunter Ecklund 15. Totals 17 (8) 6-8 48.

KING’S (22-5) — Dawson Porcello 12, Hunter Reeves 7, Christian Lopez 0, Josh Frohardt 11, Levi Bundrant 0, Nate Kleppe 3, Luke Wicks 7, Luke Bobin 0, Chewy Zevenbergen 8, Taylor Schoenfeld 3. Totals 16 (6) 13-17 51.

La Center 12 10 10 16–48

King’s 10 17 10 14–51

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