WALLA WALLA - Walla Walla Valley Academy lived to play another day and DeSales saw its season come to an end Wednesday in Southeast 2B District boys basketball action at Whitman College's Sherwood Center.
The Knights broke from a 17-17 halftime tie to outscore the Irish 29-20 over the last 16 minutes and emerge with a 46-37 win.
The victory keeps WWVA's state tourney hopes alive as the Knights meet Asotin, which knocked out Garfield-Palouse Wednesday night, at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Whitman College. The winner Saturday heads to the state tournament, and the loser goes home.
"WWVA has never been to state," Knights coach Les Balk said. "It (going to state) being the first time in history, would be so special for the kids. We've got a core group of seniors that've played all four years. I'd love to see them get a chance at state. It would be so fun for them. We've got our chance."
DeSales, with two regular-season losses to the Knights, slowed the game down in the first half. A Nick Wales jumper beat the first-quarter buzzer as the Irish took an 11-10 lead after one.
The Knights' Marshall Failing cashed in on a feed from Michael Hanson as WWVA took a 17-15 lead with 2:40 left in the half.
Tommy Gregg got the Irish even at 17-17 with two free throws with 13 seconds left until intermission.
"We did everything we wanted to do," Irish coach Mike Giusti said of DeSales' first half. "We controlled the tempo and we were really good at keeping them off the boards. We played at a pace they are not very comfortable with."
"Very rough first half," Balk said. "They took us out of what we wanted to do. Coach (Giusti) had them playing solid defense. We couldn't get into the paint and they doubled the ball."
The Knights abandoned their ‘man' defense in favor of a 1-1-3 zone in the second half, and it paid dividends.
The Irish only got nine shots up in the third, but a late Victor Mata 3-pointer and a Matt Wujek free throw kept the Irish close.
At the Knights' end, an alley oop from Failing to Caleb Sauerbier capped a 15-6 WWVA run and produced a 32-23 lead with 1:43 left in the third. Matt Moore dropped in a tear drop with eight seconds left for the Knights to retain the 34-27 lead after three quarters.
"What changed it in the second half was that we pressed them to try to pick up the pace," Balk said. "We (also) went to a 1-1-3 zone to stop their penetration. It (the zone) made them work to get shots. We put a lot of pressure on Pat Richard. He's a fine player, but he didn't get the open looks from middle penetration he was getting in the first half."
"They deserve credit as they made shots tough for Pat," Giusti said. "We were hoping they would zone us. We felt we could get the ball to Pat at the high post on almost every possession. But they did a good job of defending."
A Wujek put-back got the Irish within 34-30 with 5:20 to play, but that was as close as the Irish could get.
Two Andrew Scott free throws with 22 seconds left iced it for the Knights and pushed the lead to 44-34.
Failing, with 12 points, led a balanced Knights attack. Brad Luce added 10, and Hanson scored eight as the Knights kept their state dream alive.
Wujek capped his Irish career with a double-double, 10 points and 14 boards. Gregg chipped in nine as the Irish season came to an end.
Along with Wujek, Richard and Shea Crowley finished their Irish hoops careers.
"It was a fun ride to be on with them," Giusti said of his seniors. "Matt comes with an energy all the time. Shea is so improved, and is a real team guy. Pat is a legitimate scorer and gave us a go to guy that guys could depend on."
WWVA (46) - Sauerbier 2-5 2-3 6, Moore 2-6 0-2 4, Beck 0-0 0-0 0, Luce 5-9 0-0 10, M. Failing 0-0 0-0 0, Hanson 4-8 0-0 8, Scott 2-5 2-2 6, Mar. Failing 4-9 3-5 12. Totals 19-42 7-12 46.
DESALES (37) - Crowley 0-1 0-0 0, Richard 2-19 1-2 6, Haen 0-0 0-0 0, Williams 2-8 1-2 5, Gregg 3-12 3-3 9, Wujek 4-9 2-4 10, Wales 1-2 0-0 2, Zimmerman 0-0 0-0 0, Mata 2-4 0-0 5. Totals 14-55 7-11 37.
WWVA 10 7 17 12 - 46
DeSales 11 6 10 10 - 37
3-point goals - WWVA 1-9 (Moore 0-2, Scott 0-3, Luce 0-2, Mar. Failing 1-2), DeS 2-18 (Crowley 0-1, Richard 1-9, Williams 0-3, Gregg 0-4, Mata 1-1). Total fouls - WWVA 11, DeS 14. Fouled out-none. Technical fouls - none. Rebounds - WWVA 28 (Mar. Failing 7), DeS 46 (Wujek 14). Turnovers - WWVA 14, DeS 19. Assists - WWVA 6 (Mar. Failing 3), DeS 7 (Williams 3).