TACOMA – Nothing came easily for the Union boys basketball team on Friday.
Nearly every shot was challenged. Nearly every dribble was done under duress.
And the hardest thing the Titans faced Friday was dealing with defeat for the first time in more than a year.
Union’s hopes of a 4A state title were dashed in the semifinals Friday at the Tacoma Dome. Central Valley of Spokane beat Union 63-55, handing the top-seeded Titans their first loss of the season.
After a long time in the postgame locker room, many of Union’s players emerged with their eyes still red.
“I told them how proud they should be,” Union coach Blake Conley said. “They fought so hard. They’ve done things at Union nobody else has done.”
Union (26-1) was seeking its third berth in state title game, having won in 2010 and placed second in 2017. The Titans will face No. 2 Glacier Peak for third place at 1 p.m. Saturday.
Tanner Toolson led Union with 26 points. But the statewide player of the year got his points amid an up-close, physical defensive pressure by Central Valley that knocked Union out of rhythm and forced 14 turnovers.
“Up here, it’s going to be physical,” Toolson said. “We knew that coming in. But they got the best of us tonight.”
Conley said Central Valley’s physicality was unlike anything his team had faced this season.
“The physicality was just something we weren’t able to overcome,” Conley said. “We haven’t seen that kind of defense. We had trouble getting in a rhythm.”
Central Valley coach Mike Laws said his strategy was to keep the ball out of the hands of Toolson and guard Kaden Horn. Beyond that, just try to make life miserable for the Titans.
“Just make everything as difficult as you can for them,” he said. “It wasn’t much of a plan. That’s about it.”
Mason Hill added 11 and Josh Reznick had 10 points and 12 rebounds for Union.
After a close first half, No. 4 Central Valley (24-2) led by as much as 11 in the third quarter.
Union fought back and trailed 49-46 after a two-handed dunk by Toolson with 3:11 to play. But Central Valley rattled off five quick points, including a breakaway steal, that ignited an 8-0 run. That 57-46 lead would prove insurmountable.
Now Union will turn its eyes toward Saturday’s third-place game. That would match the program’s third-best finish, having also placed third in 2012.
“We have one more opportunity tomorrow to go and fight and play together,” Conley said. “These consolation games are about which team is tougher and more unified. There’s not a tougher, more unified group than in that locker room.”
Though Friday’s loss stung, Toolson is not taking for granted one final chance to play with his teammates.
“We’ve just got to take advantage of all the time we have left,” the senior said. “This is the closest bond I’ve ever had. Last year and this year, I’ll have these guys for the rest of my life.”
CENTRAL VALLEY 63, UNION 55
CENTRAL VALLEY (24-2) – Jayce Simmons 7, Ryan Clay 5, Noah Sanders 16, Quinn Johnson 0, Gavin Gilstrap 13, Luke Sukut 0, Alex Knudson 0, Dylan Darling 14, Carsen Raab 5, Teagan Hoard 3. Totals 22 (5) 14-17 63.
UNION (26-1) – Ty McCullum 4, Tanner Toolson 26, Mason Hill 11, Izaiah Vongnath 0, Ariya Briscoe 0, Josh Reznick 10, Kaden Horn 4, Connor Flannigan 0. Totals 20 (6) 9-13 55.
Central Valley 14 12 17 20—63
Union 15 9 11 20—55