LONGVIEW — Two seasons ago, the Columbia River boys basketball team reclassified to the 2A Greater St. Helens League, it and brought with it five consecutive 3A GSHL titles.
But Mark Morris had a more than decade-long reign of the Chieftains’ new league, and for two seasons, the Monarchs held firm.
On Wednesday, Columbia River’s 57-46 win at Mark Morris to complete a first-ever season sweep of the Monarchs marked the clearing of its largest remaining hurdle on the path to ending Mark Morris’ 18-year run.
But, the Chieftains insist, they didn’t enter the game thinking about a league title.
Rather, they just wanted a win.
“I always say we don’t look ahead but we had this circled on our calendar for awhile,” Evan Dirksen said. “Mark Morris is a really good team and it’s really good to come up here and get the ‘W.’ ”
Dirksen posted 16 points and 16 rebounds and junior Nate Snook had a game-high 20 points for the Chieftains.
River coach David Long called Dirksen’s night “tremendous” and also had high praise for Snook.
“(He) continues to amaze us every night,” Long said. “What he does defensively and how he controls the ball game from the point guard position, he’s really matured as a basketball player.
“I said it before, I’ll say it again, I think I’ve got the two best players in the league on one team. Those two make us go.”
Snook and Dirksen each had 10 points by halftime to help River up to a nine-point lead. That lead grew to as many as 17, after Snook hit a 3 with less than a minute to go in the third quarter.
Dawson Fritz helped Mark Morris trim the deficit to single digits in the fourth quarter by forcing turnovers and dishing out key assists to turn them into fast break points. But Snook hit another 3 with just over three minutes left to put the Chieftains’ lead to 15.
Jack Armstrong, River’s defensive stopper, helped hold Fritz to seven points (he scored 19 in the first matchup).
Dirksen said the Chieftains’ focus isn’t just on securing a league title, but also winning its remaining four games to finish undefeated in league.
And its gotten this far, the Chieftains say, because of its team chemistry. Four of their five starters logged minutes in the 2A state tournament last seasons, and played together on an AAU team during the spring and summer.
Dirksen even a Seattle-based team he’d spent the last two years with to return to play with his classmates (“I missed playing with them,” he said).
The Chieftains keep the statewide 2A RPI rankings in mind, where they’re ranked No. 4. Mark Morris, the second-ranked team in the league, entered Wednesday night ranked No. 19 in the metric. A loss in the final four games could bump the Chieftains out of the RPI top-8, which is used when seeding the state tournament.
But before the postseason, Columbia River is in a favorable spot to win its first 2A GSHL title with a three-game lead and four games left.
Long acknowledged the potential of upending Mark Morris’ 18-year run (“it’s a great accomplishment,” he said), but stressed that it’s not what motivates the Chieftains.
“We want to be playing our best basketball at the end of February and I think we’re headed that way,” Long said.
COLUMBIA RIVER 57, MARK MORRIS 46
COLUMBIA RIVER — Nate Snook 20, Alex Miller 1, Quincy Cartwright 0, Evan Dirksen 16, Caden Dezort 8, Jack Armstrong 4, Marc Miranda 8. Totals 21 (6) 9-12 57.
MARK MORRIS — Dawson Fritz 7, Kevin Wilbur 0, Brayden Harris 0, Garrett Ness 0, Cole Busch 2, Reece Gibb 5, Rome Hendrickson 2, Jack Shipley 14, Ashton Harvey 0, Thomas Sprague 5, Rarey Sommer 11, Keoni Makawi 0. Totals 16 (1) 13-16 46.
Columbia River 9 20 17 11 — 57
Mark Morris 8 12 11 15 — 46
JV — Columbia River won.