At the end of the third quarter, it looked like Tuesday’s 1A district boys basketball semifinal would be decided by Giovanny Evanson of King’s Way Christian and Michael Lorton Watkins of Hoquiam.
But then the King’s Way defense stepped up.
Forcing turnovers that led to transition baskets, the Knights scored 17 consecutive points to beat Hoquiam 66-52 and advance the Saturday’s district championship.
“We believe that is when we are at our best,” Evanson said. “So we try to get out in transition as much as we can. Be aggressive on defense, get some easy buckets. That makes the game a lot easier for sure.”
Lorton Watkins scored all 13 of Hoquiam’s points in third quarter as the Grizzlies got within 45-41 before Evanson ended the quarter with a 3-pointer.
After Hoquiam got a layup to open the fourth, King’s Way went on a 17-0 run to put the game away.
“Our defensive activity picked up,” King’s Way coach Daven Harmeling said. “We were having a hard time on the boards, so to have it not come to a shot was helpful, and then getting some stuff in transition.”
Evanson gave King’s Way an offensive spark in the first half, scoring 20 of the Knights’ 33 first-half points. He also drew several fouls, including some hard fouls that sent him to the floor three times.
“That first one kind of scared me,” Evanson said of a foul on a breakaway. “I didn’t even know there was anyone behind me.”
Harmeling said: “Gio is built slight, but there is more grit and toughness there than meets the eye initially. … I think (those fouls) kind of fired him a bit.”
Evanson finished with 37 points, seven rebounds, eight steals and four assists.
“It’s not like ‘oh he only does one thing,’ ” Harmeling said. “So it’s kind of hard to guard a kid like that.”
Jaydon Hall added 14 points and four assists, and Matthew Belefski added eight points and six rebounds.
The Knights, who face Elma next, are assured of a berth in the regional round of state. It’s a more direct route to the regionals than last year when the Knights had to battle through some loser-out games at district.
“That thought went through my head about 200 times in the last 48 hours,” Harmeling said.
“It’s just an easier route to state,” senior Jamison Duke said. “And it gives us better opportunities for a higher ranking going into the state.”
The Knights likely will need that, as their 14-8 record might not turn a lot of heads. However, King’s Way scheduled a lot of bigger schools during non-league play, and those matchups are paying dividends now.
“Unity, like coming together as a team,” Duke said about the team’s biggest improvement since those early games. “It helped us with our chemistry a lot, for sure.”
And Tuesday’s win made the Knights even better.
“Hoquiam is a tough team,” Harmeling said. “They are really physical. I told the guys its so important to play teams like that, which get you outside your comfort zone. That’s one of the best ways to grow as a team.
“So I’m really thankful that we got to play them, because they definitely made us better. And they made us find a part of ourselves that either wasn’t there or grew up real quick tonight.”
KING’S WAY CHRISTIAN 66, HOQUIAM 52
HOQUIAM (17-5) — Gevin Wonderly-Leonard 0, Jake Templer 8, Owen McNeill 3, Timmy Higgins 4, Zander Jump 9, Michael Lorton Watkins 19, Aiden Butcher 2, Justice Stankavich 7, Joey Bozich 0, Kort Gordon 0, Jalen Hobucket 0. Totals 20-57 (10-31) 2-7 52.
KING’S WAY CHRISTIAN (14-8) — Will Bump 0, Jaydon Hall 14, Ryan Tyler 3, Giovanny Evanson 37, Isaac Pisarczyk 0, Aidan Sweeney 0, Matthew Belefski 8, Cade Erwin 0, Jamison Duke 4, Hunter Baron 0, Dave Struthers 0. Totals 23-44 (3-14) 17-25 66.
Hoquiam 8 20 13 11—52
King’s Way 18 15 15 18—66