YAKIMA — Not even a 20-point halftime lead could get David Long to breathe a sigh of relief.
The Columbia River boys basketball coach told his team in the locker room at the midway point that, sure, they dominated Fife in the first half, but the game will be made in the third quarter.
“If you win the third quarter, you can’t lose the game,” Long told his team. “And we didn’t. And they made it real tough on us.”
The Chieftains held off a furious Fife comeback to win 58-51 in a loser-out game in the 2A state tournament at the Yakima Valley SunDome on Wednesday.
River advances to play No. 1 Lynden at 5:30 p.m. Thursday in the 2A quarterfinals.
The Trojans were so press-happy, that often there would be five defenders past the half court line to prevent Columbia River from advancing the ball.
Even when Fife amped up its press, River came prepared.
The Chieftains dissected Fife on film, and made its starting lineup run press break drills against a six-man scout team in the days leading up to Wednesday. River guard Jacob Hjort said it prepared them well for the real thing.
“They’re scrappy,” Long said. “That’s a really good defensive team — one of the best by far we’ve played this year. But we knew that. They get you to turn the ball over. They come at you in spots you don’t expect, they jump at your back, they get in passing lanes.”
Hjort finished with 16 points, Nate Snook added 13 and Evan Dirksen scored 12 for the Chieftains.
River went ahead big in the second quarter. A 12-0 run augmented by a pair of 3s from Caden Dezort put the Chieftains ahead comfortably (depending on who you ask) going into half. They outscored Fife 24-7 in the second quarter.
Hjort drilled two 3-pointers back-to-back in the final few possessions of the third quarter to give River a 21-point lead going into the fourth. Fife responded by starting the fourth quarter on a 7-0 run, which was aided by forcing four River turnovers, and pulling down offensive rebounds.
Fife outrebounded River 31-23 and pulled down 12 offensive boards. Fife forced 12 turnovers in the second half (River had five in the first half).
“We had a little wiggle room,” Snook said. “We still shouldn’t have given up that big lead.”
Columbia River was outscored 24-12 in the fourth quarter as Fife scrambled to make a comeback. Part of River’s success in holding off the Trojans was simply getting the ball over half court.
“When they gave us an opportunity to score in transition that gave us a little bit of an opportunity to get a rhythm underneath ourselves and get open shots,” Hjort said.
Trojan guard Malachi Afework scored with 3:16 left to cut the lead to nine — the first time the game had been within single digits since early in the second quarter. Fife pulled within three after a Bryson Williams 3-pointer with 1:43 to go. Nate Snook hit a pair of free throws, and Nasseen Gutierrez went 1 of 2 in the double-bonus to help the Chieftains hang on.
“It’s a win,” Long said. “There’s eight left now and we feel pretty good we’re one of those eight.”
COLUMBIA RIVER 58, FIFE 51
FIFE — Andre Sawyer 0, Lavelle Alexander 4, Gannon Ginnes 11, Malachi Afework 16, Cooper Schelbert 8, Brian Mitchell 0, Eli Graham 3, Bryson Williams 9, Alex Nitz 0. Totals 16-47 (4-21) 15-19 51.
COLUMBIA RIVER — Nate Snook 13, Mason Waite 0, Jacob Hjort 16, Evan Dirksen 12, Caden Dezort 8, Skyler Grote 0, Jack Armstrong 8, Nasseen Gutierrez 1. Totals 21-38 (8-19) 8-15 58.
Fife 6 7 14 24—51
CRiver 9 24 13 12—58