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Fast-paced Columbia River boys sprint past W.F. West, 68-50, to clinch 2A state berth

Mark Morris clamps down on Ridgefield for 56-41 win

By Will Denner, Columbian staff writer
Published: February 13, 2024, 11:45pm

LONGVIEW — The preferred pace of the Columbia River boys basketball team is fast.

Sometimes, not fast enough.

During Tuesday’s Class 2A District 4 semifinal game against W.F. West, Rapids head coach Mark Ganter could be seen on a few occasions waving his hand in a circular motion from the bench, signaling to his players to push even harder.

“Yeah, we might get out of control once in a while, but we have guys that understand how we need to play on both ends of the court,” Ganter said.

“I wanted to put the pedal to the metal as much as we could.”

The Rapids’ combination of defensive pressure and transition offense all but overwhelmed the Bearcats, the 2A Evergreen Conference champion, in a 68-50 win at Mark Morris High School.

Juniors Aaron Hoey (18 points), Ari Richardson (17 points) and John Reeder (12 points) all reached double figures in River’s state-clinching win. The Rapids will face 2A Greater St. Helens League champion Mark Morris in Friday’s district championship game, their first time on that stage since 2019.

10 Photos
Columbia River’s Nico Valdez (24) attempts a shot over W.F. West’s Parker Eiswald (1) during a Class 2A District 4 boys basketball semifinal game on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024, at Mark Morris High School.
2A District Boys Basketball: Columbia River vs. W.F. West Photo Gallery

“Last year we thought we could’ve had a lot more success than we actually did,” Reeder said, “and it’s nice to finally put it all together and get where we knew we could go.”

“We wanted this from last year,” Richardson added. “We put in the work throughout the summer. We all played together, so it feels good the work has finally (paid off).”

River (17-6) chalked up the opening minutes of the first quarter, when W.F. West (15-7)  jumped out to a 10-2 lead, as its time to settle in. From there, the Rapids never looked back.

An 11-1 run to close the quarter, finished off by a Richardson 3-pointer, gave River its first lead at 13-11, then extended it to nine points at halftime after Reeder hit a cutting Miles Fitzwilson seconds before the first-half buzzer sounded.

“I feel like when we just start picking up our man full court, we just play faster, we get more energized and going,” Richardson said. “Because it feels better for the whole team once we start hitting our shots — easy buckets, layups and steals — it feels good.”

The Rapids picked up right where they left off with a 10-0 run to start the third that included two baskets each from Carter Sheron and Richardson, who made a habit of forcing steals and creating scoring chances in the open court.

“Ari right here, (he had) like three or four straight steals, that’s what we need, we just need that energy on defense,” Reeder said. “We knew we’re a really good offensive team. All we’ve needed to do all season is put it together on defense.”

River maintained a double-digit lead for the remainder of the game and ultimately held W.F. West to 30 percent shooting (17-of-56) from the floor.

The Rapids believe their defense is improved from the beginning of the season. They had a breakthrough moment in a 62-48 win over Ridgefield Jan. 30, which avenged a loss earlier in the season to the Spudders, and they’ve carried it into the postseason.

“Our defense in that game was spot on,” Ganter said. “And from then … I kept reminding them, ‘remember Ridgefield, remember Ridgefield,’ and they’re like, ‘OK, we know what we’ve gotta do.’ They locked in so hard and it kind of carried on from there.”

Now, the Rapids draw a rematch with the Monarchs in Friday’s district championship game, set to tip off at 8 p.m. at Kelso High School. The teams split the season series 1-1, including a 69-58 River win in December, which was Mark Morris’ only league loss.

“We’ve still gotta play basketball, we’ve still gotta shore up everything and work hard,” Ganter said, “but yeah, beating everybody in the league at least once, that’s huge.”

Nico Valdez added seven points, while Sheron and Fitzwilson each had six for the Rapids.

MARK MORRIS 56, RIDGEFIELD 41 — The Monarchs sent off head coach Bill Bakamus with a win in his final home game at Ted M. Natt Court, while clinching a 2A state berth and a spot in Friday’s district championship game against Columbia River.

Ridgefield (16-7) trailed by six points at halftime after Jamison McCann rattled in a 3-pointer to close the second quarter, then opened the third quarter on an 8-0 run to take a brief 30-28 lead.

Mark Morris (18-5) scored eight of the final 10 points in the quarter on a pair of baskets from Braydon Olson and Dalton Stevens, then tightened its defense by holding Ridgefield to just two field goals in the fourth quarter. Olson led the Monarchs with 24 points and Stevens added 19.

Bakamus, who announced last month his plans to retire at the end of the season, was honored with a brief post-game ceremony, which featured a tribute from Mark Morris public address announcer Dave Andrew and closed with a playing of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” over the gym’s speakers.

Cole Chester had a team-high 24 points for the Spudders, who will face R.A. Long on Thursday in a winner-to-state, loser-out game at Woodland High School.