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News / Sports / Prep Sports

Richland’s defense puts Union on the ropes in season-ending defeat in 4A state round of 12

Titans, winners of 13 straight games before 55-43 defeat, were held to 17 points in the second half

By Will Denner, Columbian staff writer
Published: March 1, 2023, 5:33pm

TACOMA — Union’s run of 13 straight wins dating back to January sent the Titans back to the Tacoma Dome with aspirations of making another deep run in the Class 4A state boys basketball tournament.

On Wednesday, the Titans’ streak and season came to an abrupt halt.

The second half of Union’s 55-43 loss to Richland in the Class 4A state Round of 12 is where the Titans came undone.

They closed the second quarter on a 5-0 run, all from senior Josiah Baldassare, to take a 26-25 lead into halftime.

Baldassare, who led Union with 16 points, opened the third quarter with another 3-pointer, but from that point on, Union’s offense was never fully on track. Richland outscored Union 18-6 in the third to take a commanding 43-32 lead into the fourth.

26 Photos
Union coach Blake Conley issues direction during a timeout during a Class 4A State boys basketball game on Wednesday, March 1, 2023, at the Tacoma Dome.
Union vs Richland 4A boys state Photo Gallery

“I just felt they sped us up a lot, got us out of our stuff easily, which kind of led to us just going through the motions doing the same basic sets over and over,” said Union senior Yanni Fassilis, who added 13 points, 12 rebounds and six assists. “They’re a really good team.”

Much of Richland’s turnaround was a credit to its defense, which forced 21 Union turnovers for the game and frequently doubled Union’s top playmaker, Fassilis, in hopes of forcing the ball out of his hands.

“They had a lot of random double teams,” Baldassare said. “I feel like Yanni did a really good job of finding the open person when they double-teamed him. … At some points our team did really well at handling it and other times it just kind of fell apart and got to us.”

Union got as close as five points in the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer from Evan Manville followed by a Baldassare basket inside set up by Fassilis.

Richland responded with a 3-pointer from Jase Vopalensky and a jumper from Brock Steufert to bring the Bombers’ lead back to double digits, 48-38, with four-and-a-half minutes left.

Josh Woodard led Richland with 15 points.

“(We) just unfortunately played a poor half, and if you play a poor half here, you’re probably going home,” Union coach Blake Conley said. “That’s what happened.”

What made Union’s 13-game win streak eye-popping was how the season started. The Titans were 7-6 the first week of January after suffering a loss to 4A Greater St. Helens League foe Camas.

“A lot of people doubted us,” Fassilis said. “It was so much fun proving all those people wrong. I knew these guys knew we had it in us the whole entire time, the coaches knew we had it in us. And it was really just believing in ourselves, trusting your coaches and I wouldn’t have wanted it to be written any other way.”

They won their final four league games in the regular season, then added three straight wins in the 4A District 3/4 playoffs to get to state.

“Those feel so good because this feels so terrible,” Conley said. “I said, ‘don’t let this game define you and we wish we would’ve stayed here longer. But for us to dig out of the hole we did this season shows a lot of (resiliency), shows a lot of mental, physical toughness. For us to get here in the way that we did, that hasn’t been a normal path for Union. They kept the Union tradition alive.”

“Obviously we didn’t just want to get here; we wanted to win games,” Fassilis added. “Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, but getting here is a big accomplishment for any program, let alone, what is it, (eight) years in a row?”

Union will graduate Fassilis, Baldassare, Manville and Samair Thompson, all of whom were starters and a major part of the Titans’ run to their eighth straight state appearance.

“I’m really proud of this group, proud of these four seniors and what they did and the tradition they continued here at Union,” Conley said.

RICHLAND 55, UNION 43

UNION (19-7) — Nolan Frazier 0, Grayson Stanley 2, Josiah Baldassare 16, Mitch Ratigan 2, Samair Thompson 0, Kody Holcomb 2, Yanni Fassilis 13, Nick Burchett 0, Paxton Heitsch 0, Tucker Dunseth 0, Evan Manville 8. Totals 15 (6) 7-13 43.

RICHLAND (22-4) — Landen Northrop 5, Jace Woodard 0, Jack Forbes 2, Josiah Scacco 0, Josh Woodard 15, Sylen Kiesel-Kauhane 0, Jase Vopalensky 7, Jordan Valencia-Alvarado 12, Conner Schulz 0, Brock Streufert 2, Jackson Black 0, Lucas Westerfield 12. Totals 23 (5) 4-6 55.

Union 12 14 6 11—43

Richland 11 14 18 12—53

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