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Under new head coach, Columbia River boys basketball rallies for season-opening win

Rapids come back from 17-point deficit to down Battle Ground 75-71

By Will Denner, Columbian staff writer
Published: November 28, 2023, 11:40pm
5 Photos
Columbia River’s Luca Phillips (20) goes up for a shot against Battle Ground’s James Gill (21) in a non-league boys basketball game on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023, at Columbia River High School.
Columbia River’s Luca Phillips (20) goes up for a shot against Battle Ground’s James Gill (21) in a non-league boys basketball game on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023, at Columbia River High School. (Will Denner/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

As first games go for coaches, Mark Ganter experienced a rollercoaster in a wild win for the Columbia River boys basketball team.

The Rapids fell behind by 17 points to Battle Ground in the first quarter Tuesday, trimmed the deficit to seven at halftime, then after outscoring the Tigers 33-17 in the third held off several furious rallies for a 75-71, season-opening win at J. Hoover Gymnasium.

The win over the Class 4A Tigers was only game one in a long season, but a sigh of relief nonetheless for River and Ganter, the team’s first-year head coach who led the program’s C-team last season before accepting the varsity job.

“It just shows what these kids are made of,” Ganter said. “They’ve been playing together for a long time. Last year they had some ups and downs. After I got the job, finally, in the summer, we started our summer program in June and we went from there. … I’m proud of these guys.”

Four Rapids players reached double figures in scoring led by Ari Richardson’s 17 points, 12 from Adam Reeder, 11 from Luca Phillips and 10 from Aaron Hoey.

The latter made two clutch baskets inside the final two minutes, including a contested layup to give the Rapids a three-point lead with 57 seconds left. The Tigers missed a potential game-tying 3 with 11 seconds left, then Adam Reeder iced the game with a made free throw to put the Rapids ahead by two possessions.

“Being down down 17, we knew we had to play our best to even get a chance to get back in the game,” Hoey said of River’s woes over five scoreless minutes in the first quarter. “We were just trying to chip it down … and eventually we got back in the game. We were able to stick there. We started a little slow, so going into the next games, we’re going to know we’ve got to come in stronger.”

For several River players, including Hoey, a junior, they’re playing for their third head coach in three seasons of varsity basketball. David Long retired at the end of the 2021-22 season following 30 years as the head boys coach. His successor, Travis Drake, coached River for the 2022-23 campaign, which the Rapids finished with a 9-14 record, before leaving the program. Ganter

“We’re really enjoying playing for Mark, we really like him,” Hoey said. “It’s hard though, because every year you’re coming to a new coach, you’re learning a new system and it’s really difficult. It’s something that I feel as a team has made us stronger, because we’ve had to work together to get to where we are right now.”

Ganter, in fact, said he wasn’t planning to coach basketball when he took a teaching job at Columbia River in 2022. But the Rapids boys program needed a coach and Ganter was well-qualified, having coached the Hillsboro High (Oregon) boys team from 2018-22. Having one year in River’s program already helped ease the transition this season, he said.

“When I interviewed for the job and I got the position, the guys were happy,” Ganter said. “They’re good with what I want and what I expected out of them. I think if I was coming in brand new, it would’ve been a different story. But since I had them in the summer, and worked with them to kind of instill the philosophies we want to have, they carried that into the fall league we had. When we started (practice) on Nov. 13, we’re good to go.”

Battle Ground, which was led by Trey Spencer’s game-high 28 points, is also in the midst of changes with a first-year head coach, Brett Johnson, who most recently coached the Skyview girls team in the 2022-23 season, and also had a stint as the Prairie girls head coach from 2013-16.

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Additionally, Tait Spencer, the team’s leading scorer of the past two seasons, is playing his senior season at Great Futures Prep, an upstart Seattle-area basketball academy within Alan T. Sugiyama High School.

In addition to Trey Spencer, Tigers got scoring contributions from Austin Ralphs (12 points), plus 10 points each from Ian Ebinger, Noah Currie and Boston Walker, a junior transfer from La Center.


BATTLE GROUND — Ian Ebinger 10, Boston Walker 10, Noah Currie 10, Austin Ralphs 12, Trey Spencer 28, Jacob Renfroe 4. Totals 21 (5) 24-33 71.

COLUMBIA RIVER — Ari Richardson 17, Adam Reeder 12, John Reeder 6, Miles Fitzwilson 5, Luca Phillips 11, Carter Sheron 9, Aaron Hoey 10, Nico Valdez 3. Totals 29 (4) 13-26 75.

Bat.Ground 19 15 17 19—71

Col.River 15 12 33 15—75