WALLA WALLA - The Liberty Christian Patriots charged from the trenches for an early seven-point lead, built it to as high as 14 in the fourth period, then withstood a late Waitsburg-Prescott counter-attack to emerge victorious, 41-35, in the Southeast Class 2B boys District title game here Saturday at Sherwood Center.
The victory sends the Patriots to the state tournament as the No. 1 seed from District 9. The loss puts W-P in the tournament as the district's second seed.
"It was very important to get out on them early," LC coach Terry Watson said. "We knew if we could get a lead, they would start panicking - they'd start making a lot of mistakes. And they did. They started forcing passes and shooting the shots we wanted them to shoot.
"We told ourselves we weren't going to give them 40 points - that was our goal on defense," he said. "We wanted to stay in tight and make them see if they could beat us from the outside and that's exactly what we did."
"We came out OK, but we missed some bunny shots," Waitsburg-Prescott coach T.J. Scott said. "Then (LC) scores eight points that we just handed them, and all the guys put their heads down and got deflated. We got scared or something. I've never seen us play with that little intensity."
Liberty scored the first five points of the game, and pushed the lead to 10-3 before W-P could close it 10-7 at the first break.
The Patriots pumped the lead up to eight, 19-11, with a 9-4 run at the start of the second quarter, but W-P trimmed it back to four with a 4-0 half-ending run.
Liberty Christian jumped out of the third-quarter gate on an 8-2 push led by Brett Dustin's two jumpers, increasing its lead to 10, 27-17. W-P diminished that advantage to single digits, 29-22, by the end of the third quarter on three Wyatt Withers foul shots and a Lucan Gerke layup.
The fourth stanza was a repeat of the first three, with LC blasting off to a 9-2 run. That built the Patriots their largest lead at 14, with 4:48 remaining.
"I always tell my kids, you win the third quarter, you win the game," Watson said. "We did that, but in the fourth quarter we wanted to go out and establish ourselves right away. I thought we had some mismatches with their guards on our posts, so we decided to go inside and it worked."
But W-P wasn't done. According to Scott, the 14-point deficit was his team's wake-up call.
"We didn't take care of the ball on offense, and we didn't play with any heart on defense until the fourth quarter, then all of the sudden the light switch comes on," Scott said.
Starting at the 4:04 mark, W-P embarked on an 11-0 run, forcing the Patriots into four turnovers in the span.
Kris Cady got the rally started by being fouled on a drive and going to the line for two. Cady made the first, missed the second, then got his own rebound and bucket to cap an unconventional three-point play.
Thirty seconds later, W-P's Wyatt Withers buried a trey to make it 38-30.
Zach Bartlow's 10-footer from the left baseline closed the gap to six, and James Lehr's 34 from the left wing narrowed it to three, 38-35, with 45 seconds left.
Patriot Mike Groth finally broke W-P's run with two free throws at the 33-second mark.
W-P attempted three more treys after that, but missed on all.
"If we could have played with that kind of intensity all game long, we would have run them out of the gym," Scott said.
Liberty Christian was led in scoring by Groth's 11 points. Bryan Corrigan posted 8 points and 15 rebounds, 60 percent of his team's board total.
Wyatt Withers led Waitsburg-Prescott with 10 points. Zach Bartlow led W-P with eight boards. Kris Cady contributed eight points and seven rebounds - second best in both categories.
Both teams qualified for the state tournament thanks to wins on Monday. They discover when and who they play today when the tournament draw is held.
The state tournament is held Wednesday through Saturday at the Spokane Arena.
WAITSBURG-PRESCOTT (41) - Hernandez 0 0-0 0, Cady 3 2-6 8, Zuger 0 0-0 0, Withers 2 5-6 10, Bartlow 2 0-0 4, Gerke 1 2-2 4, Wooderchak 0 0-0 0, Alexenko 0 0-0 0, Kiefel 2 0-0 4, McDaniel 0 0-0 0, Lehr 2 0-2 5. Totals 12 9-16 35.
LIBERTY CHRISTIAN (35) - Salzano 2 1-3 7, Lowry 0 0-0 0, Groth 4 3-4 11, Dustin 4 1-2 9, Brockman 1 2-8 4, Simpkins 1 0-0 2, Corrigan 3 2-2 8, Olson 0 0-0 0. Totals 15 9-19 41.
W-P 7 8 7 13 - 35
LC 10 9 10 12 - 41
3-point goals - W-P 2 (Withers, Lehr), LC 2 (Salzano 2). Total fouls-W-P 14, LC 11. Fouled out-none. Technical fouls-none. Rebounds-W-P 36 (Bartlow 8), LC 25 (Corrigan 15). Turnovers-W-P 17, LC 12.