They took a longer road with more bumps and bends along the way. The Union Titans still reached their final destination.
Union’s streak of state boys basketball tournament appearances reached eight straight seasons after running away with a 73-45 win against Emerald Ridge on Friday at home in the 4A bi-district tournament.
The Titans shrugged off a slow start for both teams and caught fire behind Evan Manville’s team-high 23 points on seven 3-pointers, with Yanni Fassilis adding 17 points.
The win capped a six-day run of three straight Union victories to secure its place in next week’s state regionals.
“We’re a tough team,” Manville said. “I love these guys. I love playing with them every day. It’s been a little bit of struggle the first couple games, losing those (4A Greater St. Helens League) games. But we kept pushing, and we’re sticking with it.”
As Union coach Blake Conley noted, several Union teams of years past began the season at the top and stayed there. That wasn’t the case with this year’s squad.
The Titans sufferred two costly defeats to Battle Ground and Camas, respectively, at the start of 4A GSHL play, which ultimately sunk them to a second-place finish in the league standings.
That meant, instead of needing one win in bi-districts to reach state, the Titans needed three.
First, they knocked off Rogers-Puyallup, 80-59, on Feb. 11 at home.
Then came a road trip on Wednesday to face Kentridge, a team Conley said was one of the best Union had faced this season. In another loser-out game, Union gutted out a 55-47 win to set up Friday’s game, the final one the Titans played in front of their home fans this season.
“We’re just a totally different team than we were in December and even early January,” Conley said. “That’s really cool to see as a coach, you love that. We’ve had some teams that were, honestly, great when we started, great when we ended and we always got better. But this team, I think, in terms of the gap we have made … we needed to come a long way, and we have. It’s really cool. And hopefully we continue to get better, but it’s a special year. We’ve never done it like this.”
A signature trait of this year’s Union team is, at times, its shooting ability. Twelve 3-pointers on Friday was proof.
After Union led 9-6 after one quarter, with Fassilis, the team’s leading scorer, accounting for seven points, Samair Thompson and Manville drilled back-to-back shots from deep to start the second.
Manville proceeded to drill three more over the final three-and-a-half minutes of the quarter to help Union take a 35-22 lead at halftime.
“I feel like a lot of people think it’s just me (scoring) on this team, but it’s not,” Fassilis said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that can go, and I think they really went out and showed that tonight. They played confidently, just (letting) it fly. We’ve got shooters, man.”
None were bigger than the 6-foot-7 senior Manville, who added seven more points during a 23-12 stretch in the third quarter, then drained his seventh 3 early in the fourth quarter to push Union’s lead to 25.
Friday was his second game back after suffering an ankle sprain two weeks ago in practice that kept him out of Union’s final two regular-season games and the team’s bi-district opener.
It was the same leg that kept him sidelined for most of last season as a junior, including the Titans’ run to the state tournament. Now, as a senior, he and his Union teammates are state-bound.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment since I was a kid, man,” Manville said. “I love being here with this guys. … It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
UNION 73, EMERALD RIDGE 45
EMERALD RIDGE (11-14) — Brenan Aoki 3, Jordan Bennett 11, Tony Harste 7, Nik Husasik 0, Blake Muchlenruch 6, Jamaize McGriff 1, Chase Dillon 0, Marquis Robinson 7, Joaquin Vazquez 5, Jacob Lane 5, Chiron Susee, Bam Afalava 0. Totals 16 (8) 5-8 45.
UNION (18-6) — UNION — Nolan Frazier 0, Grayson Stanley 3, Josiah Baldassare 6, Mitch Ratigan 4, Samair Thompson 5, Kody Holcomb 9, Yanni Fassilis 17, Nick Burchett 3, Tucker Dunseth 3, Evan Manville 23. Totals 27 (12) 7-8 73.
Em. Ridge 6 16 12 11—45
Union 9 26 23 15—73