HOCKINSON — Columbia River’s plan was simple: play lockdown, suffocating defense from the jump.
“We talked about it before the game, we had like three guys saying, ‘let’s get on ’em, let’s not stop,’ ” senior Jack Armstrong said. “So, good start.”
Sound plan, in theory. The execution? Nearly flawless.
The Chieftains boys basketball team scored 23 of the game’s first 27 points to build a lead it never relinquished in a 65-41 win over Ridgefield in the 2A district semifinals at Hockinson High School on Thursday night.
The Chieftains punch their ticket back to the 2A state tournament for the second consecutive year, an overarching goal the team has held all year, as they trounced their way to an undefeated 2A Greater St. Helens League title-winning season.
Evan Dirksen finished with 23 points and Nate Snook added 13. Dirksen scored 16 points in the first half on efficient shooting. The Chieftains, as many teams do heading into the state tournament, started implementing new looks to give Dirksen, the team’s leading scorer (17.9 points per game) and co-league player of the year.
But the Chieftains’ pride after the game Friday night didn’t come from its offensive output, rather, their ability to slow down the Spudders — the team that scored the most on River (albeit 51 points in a 30-point CR win) during league play.
Defense has been an emphasis throughout the season, not only due to its defensive-minded coach in David Long.
“Collectively as a group, even down to a lot of bench players, too, we get excited about playing defense, getting stops on the other side and getting fast breaks off missed shots,” Armstrong said.
The secret? Rotating help from teammates.
“My guy got past me a couple times and Caden came in and helped me and Evan’s a great help side defender, he gets a lot of blocks that way, but (it was) aggressiveness on defense,” Armstrong, who has been River’s defensive stopper for three seasons now. “We wanted to stop them really bad. That was a focus.”
The Chieftains took a 17-point lead into halftime and didn’t let up in the third. Snook hit two 3s, Dirksen added another six points to help River build its lead to 27 points.
Early in the fourth quarter, Long unloaded his bench.
Ridgefield was led by Stefan Vossenkuhl’s 10 points. The Spudders play Hockinson on Friday in a loser-out.
After the game, Long invited the players’ parents into the locker room, in part, to determine if the team needed a bus for its 2A district title game at Saint Martins University on Friday evening.
Logistically, the parents could make it work. But the players insisted on taking the bus which, to Long, was a good sign, particularly for a game — the 2A district title — that some River players have bitter memories of after losing to Mark Morris in the final seconds last year.
“I was thinking comfort and our kids said no, we want to be together, we don’t want to be split up,” Long said. “I like that answer.
“That’s how they win, too. They don’t win with pieces. They win together.”
COLUMBIA RIVER 65, RIDGEFIELD 41
RIDGEFIELD — Carson Knight 6, Nick Jenkins 2, Isaac Aguirre 5, Ben Poppert 2, Josh Masur 5, Stefan Vossenkuhl 10, Jordan Imai 0, Tyler Poorman 0, Logan Rossman 0, Matt Gama 4, James Corey 1, Curren Whitsitt 6. Totals 15 (1) 10-19 41.
COLUMBIA RIVER — Nate Snook 13, Alex Miller 6, Quincy Cartwright 1, Matt Asplund 0, Josh Kukula 8, Evan Dirksen 23, Caden Dezort 6, Cole Delici 2, Jack Armstrong 4, Marc Miranda 2, Michael Foust 0, Dylan Valdez 0, Max Firstenburg 0, Elijah Hairston 0. Totals 24 (5) 12-22 65.
Ridgefield 4 12 10 15 — 41
Columbia River 23 10 20 12 — 65