YAKIMA – King’s Way Christian is at home in the Dome.
The hot-shooting Knights beat Trico League rival La Center 85-63 Wednesday in the round of 12 of the 1A boys basketball state tournament at the Yakima Valley SunDome.
Brady Metz scored 20 points, including six 3-pointers, as King’s Way shot 51.5 percent from the field. The Knights made 11 3-pointers and led wire to wire.
No. 7 King’s Way advances to face top-seeded Seattle Academy in the quarterfinals at 10:30 a.m. Thursday.
The Knights started four players who played significant roles on last year’s team, which finished runner-up at the state tournament.
For senior Gage Koenders, this marks a fourth trip to the SunDome in the state tournament.
“It’s like a second home for us,” Koenders said. “It feels like we’ve been here so many times. The whole team felt super comfortable just going out there and doing what we need to do to win.”
King’s Way looked comfortable from the start. The Knights scored the game’s first 13 points and made four 3-pointers in the first quarter.
No shooter was hotter early than Metz. The senior scored 14 points in the first half, including four 3-pointers, as the Knights led 39-25 at halftime.
“That rhythm comes from my teammates,” Metz said. “It’s setting my feet and letting it fly, but credit to my teammates for setting the screens and getting me open.”
King’s Way (20-6) won both Trico League meetings against La Center this season, by six and 12 points, respectively. But the Wildcats came into Wednesday’s game having won the district championship and a state regional game.
Yet the Wildcats struggled from the field, shooting 31 percent in the first half. The Knights never let up, stretching the lead to 68-40 by outscoring La Center 29-15 in the third quarter.
“It really is hard facing a team three times,” Metz said. “We had to adjust our gameplan a bit and get the ball moving on offense. Our top priority was really get the ball running in transition and rebound.”
Wednesday marked the end of a stellar four-year career for Hunter Ecklund, who scored 28 points. The Trico League MVP finishes as La Center’s all-time leading scorer with 1,855 points. He passed Dustin VanWeerdhuizen’s career mark of 1,785 in La Center’s district title win on Feb. 22
When Ecklund checked out of the game in the final minute, he received a long embrace from father and head coach Jeremy Ecklund. The entire King’s Way bench gave him a standing ovation.
“It has been a great four years with him,” Jeremy Ecklund said. “He’s put in a ton of work. The MVP, scoring leader and all the trophies he’s won are special. But for me, it meant a lot to be around him the last four years.”
With just two key players back from last year’s semifinal team, coach Ecklund was proud of what his team accomplished.
“I thought it was a great season,” he said. “We lost so much talent from last year, I think a lot of people questioned what we could do.”
King’s Way, which reached last year’s title game as a No. 11 seed, is hoping to make another run.
The Knights know what their facing in Seattle Academy (23-1). King’s Way gave the Cardinals a tough test on Dec. 13, losing 73-71.
“I think we’re super confident coming off a win,” said Koenders, who scored 12 points. “But we need to play our hardest and do what our coach tells us to do. We lost to them earlier this year, but we need to learn from that experience.”
KING’S WAY CHRISTIAN 85, LA CENTER 63
LA CENTER (18-7) – Hunter Ball 9, Jeremy Humphrey 3, Isaiah Romero 3, Cedric Hubler 6, Hunter Ecklund 28, Tobey Deemer 5, Park Ball 6, Shawn Child 0, Riley Fender 2, Jordan Nixon 0, Colby Hylton 0. Totals 23 (6) 11-17 63.
KING’S WAY CHRISTIAN (20-6) – Kobi Cason 10, Gage Koenders 12, Brady Metz 20, Bailey Meek 10, Bryson Metz 6, Giovanny Evanson 7, Ty Snider 4, Mason Packer 0, Bryce Dodge 6, Kai Butterworth 2, Justin Frahm 6, Sam Kelly 2. Totals 35 (11) 4-4 85.
La Center 10 15 15 23—63
King’s Way 22 17 29 17—85