WALLA WALLA - Four months of grueling practice has paid off for two teams from two smaller schools in the area.
The DeSales Irish girls and Waitsburg-Prescott's boys are headed to the Class 2B state tournament beginning Wednesday at the Spokane Arena, and on Sunday they found out who their first round opponents would be.
Number three seeds to state like the Irish, who took the hard road to the tournament by winning three straight district loser-out games, often draw difficult opponents in the first round of the state tournament, and it's hard to argue that the Irish could have drawn a tougher team than the No. 2-ranked and defending state champion Colfax Bulldogs.
The Irish and Bulldogs take the court at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.
"That's the price you pay for not being a top seed (from district)," DeSales coach Tim Duncan said Monday of the draw.
The Bulldogs, who have lost just three times this season, come into the tournament riding a 15-game winning streak.
"I'd say Colfax, LaSalle and Napavine are the pre-tourney favorites," Duncan said.
Duncan said he doesn't know a lot about the Bulldogs, but what he's finding out is his Irish have a tall task before them.
"They (Colfax) are bigger than I originally thought," he said. "Kayla Johnson, a 5-foot, 8-inch forward, is their best player and scorer, and they run a lot of their plays through her."
Only one player on the DeSales roster has state tournament experience - Irish leading scorer and senior captain Caitlin Duncan.
"Caitlin played as a freshman on our last team that went to state," coach Duncan said. "Other than that we have no one (with state playoff experience).
"It's hard to say how kids this age will react (to playing on such a big stage)," he said. "We'll go to the arena early on Wednesday to let them see what it's like and get that awe look out of their eyes. Then they'll be able to concentrate on their opponent instead of what's going on around them."
Waitsburg-Prescott, meanwhile, drew a more favorable opponent for its first-round matchup in Napavine. Napavine and Waitsburg-Prescott meet at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Like Waitsburg-Prescott, Napavine is a second seed from its district, District IV, which encompasses most of southwestern Washington. Napavine is located five miles south of Chehalis.
"Yeah, I'm pretty happy with the draw," W-P coach T.J. Scott said. "It's one of those things where you know every team up there is good. You'll have to play a good game to beat anyone. We drew a No. 2 out of district instead of a No. 1, but we'd have been happy with anybody."
Napavine is a returnee to the state tournament, finishing fourth last year.
The Tigers lost their 20-points-per-game-scorer from last year, Blake Anthony.
In his place are a quartet of Tigers who all saw some state tournament playing time last year: Reece Stanley, Micah Brown, Colton Brown and Jordan Brown. Each has posted double-digit point totals at some time this season, and Stanley and Micah Brown have registered 10 or more rebounds in a game.
Napavine finished the regular season 13-10, good for fourth place in the Central League.
The Tigers earned their way into the state tournament by defeating No. 7-ranked and Central League regular-season champion Pe Ell in a 38-36 nail-biter.
The following night they fell in the district championship game to regular-season fifth-place finisher Toutle Lake, 41-29.
"The truth is I know nothing about them, but looking at their scores, I'd say they must be a very solid defensive team," Scott said. "I think every possession will be huge. The team who takes care of the ball better will likely win."
Waitsburg-Prescott left today for Spokane at 2:30 p.m. after a parade down Waitsburg's Main Street led by the city's fire engines.
Scott plans to get in a practice at Ferris High School in Spokane tonight.
"Jim Sharkey is the head football coach at Ferris, and he was my football coach at Waitsburg from 1996 to 1998, my sophomore, junior and senior seasons. I set up the practice through him," Scott said.
"The kids are really excited to go up there," he continued. "But we're not happy to just be there. We're up there to win games. We're in the mindset of bringing home hardware."