WALLA WALLA — Wa-Hi’s boys basketball coach John Golden is not a pessimist.
He’s not the least bit interested in the theory that it’s difficult to defeat a team three times in a given season.
“We tend to look more on the positive side,” Golden said as he made last-minute preparations for tonight’s Mid-Columbia Conference district tourney opener against Chiawana, a team the Blue Devils defeated twice during the regular season by the narrowest of margins. The loser-out game is scheduled for a 7 p.m. tip in the Wa-Hi gym.
“We would rather look at the fact that they (Riverhawks) have to come here,” Golden said. “We think that is an advantage for us.
“Anything can happen in a loser-out game, we’ve been on both sides of that. But we have worked very hard to get a home playoff game and we are going to try and take advantage of it. We are glad to be on our home court.”
Wa-Hi finished the Mid-Columbia season with a 7-7 mark, and the Blue Devils take an 12-8 overall record into tonight’s game. Chiawana finished league play at 3-11 and is 5-15 overall.
The teams’ two regular-season meetings were nothing short of nail-biters.
Junior guard Gabe Porter’s 3-point basket at the buzzer lifted the Blue Devils to a 52-49 victory the first time the teams met Dec. 14 in Walla Walla. They didn’t play the rematch until last Friday night in Pasco, and Wa-Hi held on for a 41-40 victory.
Golden isn’t sure the teams are as evenly matched as those scores might indicate.
“Maybe that’s how it looks on the surface,” he said. “But we haven’t shot the ball very well. We have been getting open looks, we’re just not knocking them down. We need to shoot better.
“For whatever reason, Chiawana has been one of those teams where we’ve had a hard time putting runs together. We’ll make a couple of baskets back-to-back but have had a hard time stringing it together after that.
“We’ve had a hard time with prosperity, I guess. Hopefully we can turn that around tonight.”
Wa-Hi’s offensive approach this season has been something of an anomaly, Golden noted. Tanner Cranor, a 6-foot-8 senior post, has been the strength of a program that more often than not has been guard oriented.
“We have been pretty dominant inside,” Golden said, singling out Cranor’s 35-point game against Richland, a 32-point outing vs. Southridge and 25 points in a non-league win over Pendleton.
“That’s a little different for us, relying on the inside game,” Golden said. “Tanner has been getting 15-to-25 shots a game, and that’s a little bit unheard of for us.
“But he has really improved, and the other kids have done a good job looking inside for him. That’s really been the key for us, our guards looking inside.”
Eric Klicker, a 6-1 junior guard, scores 11 points a game and is the only other Blue Devil averaging double figures. Porter, 6-3 senior Sam Arias and 6-0 senior Aaron Eggart round out the starting lineup.
The Blue Devils have played the second half of the season without junior guard Spencer Locati, a returning starter who suffered a shoulder injury that ended his season.
“When you take that element away, it hurts,” Golden said.
If the Blue Devils can pass tonight’s test, they will face another loser-out district game Friday night at Pasco High. The Bulldogs also finished Mid-Columbia play at 7-7 and are 12-8 on the season.
Wa-Hi and Pasco split their two regular-season meetings.
The winner of Friday’s game faces Mid-Columbia champion Richland Saturday night on the Bombers’ home court in a game that will decide the district’s first and second seeds to the regional tournament. Richland won the league title with a 12-2 mark and is 15-4 overall.
“Richland is probably ahead of the rest of us,” Golden said. “Especially on offense. They have a lot of guys who can score and they have been tough to slow down.”
Wa-Hi’s girls team (12-2, 18-2) earned the No. 2 district seed and a first-round bye. The Blue Devils will host a loser-out game Friday night against the winner of tonight’s district opener between Pasco (0-14, 0-19) and Richland (7-7, 9-11) that will be played in Richland.
The winner of Friday’s game will advance to a Saturday night game at Chiawana (12-2, 14-6) to decide regional seeding.
Meanwhile, the DeSales boys and the Waitsburg-Prescott girls are involved in Southeast 2B League tiebreaker games tonight. The Irish will take on Tri-Cities Prep at 6 p.m. in Touchet and W-P meets Asotin at 5:30 p.m. on the Dayton court.
Losers are out, winners will move on to Thursday night district playin games in Colfax. The DeSales-TCP winner takes on Reardon at 7:30 p.m., preceded by the W-P-Asotin winner vs. St. George’s at 5:30 p.m.
The district tournament commences Saturday with games scheduled at Dayton and Waitsburg and will resume the following weekend at Whitman College and Walla Walla Community College.
The Southeast 1B teams will open postseason play Wednesday when the Garfield-Palouse girls travel to St. John-Endicott and the Rosalia girls visit Touchet. Both games tip off at 6 p.m.
Boys play commences Thursday with Touchet playing at Pomeroy and Rosalia at Lacrosse-Washtucna in a pair of 6 p.m. affairs.