SPOKANE — Walla Walla still controls its own destiny as the NWAACC Eastern Region men’s basketball season draws to a close.
But the Warriors’ path to a berth in the NWAACC Championships that will be played March 2-5 at the Toyota Center in Kennewick is fraught with pitfals.
The Walla Wallans, locked in a three-team death-struggle for the East’s fourth and final tourney ticket, were unable to help their cause here Wednesday night as Spokane pulled away in the second half for an 81-69 victory.
The loss dropped the Warriors to 6-6 in league games and 12-12 overall. Blue Mountain (6-5, 12-11) is currently in fourth place heading into a Friday night game at Yakima (7-4, 17-8), and Treasure Valley (5-6, 11-12) is close on the Warriors’ heels as the Chukars visit Wenatchee (3-8, 9-15), also on Friday.
The Warriors finish up the season at home Saturday against first-place Big Bend (11-2, 22-4) and at Blue Mountain next Wednesday. The Timberwolves play at Yakima on Saturday while Treasure Valley plays at Wenatchee Saturday and at home against Columbia Basin (0-12, 1-21) on Wednesday.
“I think it’s going to come down to the last game of the season at Blue Mountain,” WWCC coach Jeff Reinland said. “If we can beat Blue Mountain, I think we will get in.”
The Warriors have already defeated Blue Mountain twice this season: 110-104 Dec. 16 in a crossover tournament in Roseburg, Ore., and 72-55 when the teams met Jan. 9 during the first round of league play in Walla Walla.
A victory over the Vikings Saturday afternoon in the Dietrich Dome would go a long way toward solidifying a tournament berth. Big Bend bested Walla Walla 86-70 Jan. 26 in Moses Lake.
“Big Bend is good, but they are beatable,” Reinland said. “We had a horrible first half when we played them at their place, then we outplayed them in the second half.”
Ultimately, the Warriors’ postseason hopes could hinge on the team’s health. Already ravaged by a series of season-ending injuries, Reinland’s roster was just seven players deep Wednesday when two of his sophomores, Dylan Radliff and Dahrius Mills, didn’t suit up because of the flu.
“Dylan’s averaging 20 points for us and he didn’t even make the trip,” Reinland said. “Dahrius went with us hoping he could go, but he got sick on the way up and we had to hold him out.
“We’ve just had a hard time keeping these guys healthy this year. It’s been a crazy year.”
Nevertheless, the Warriors trailed by just three points, 41-38, at the intermission Wednesday night. And they took a brief lead in the second half before the Sasquatch took control.
“We couldn’t make shots down the stretch,” Reinland said. “We had our chances. I really believe that with Dylan and Dahrius playing, we would have had a real good shot the way things went.”
Freshman guard Case Rada led the Walla Wallans with 33 points, and another freshman, Eric Harr, was the only other Warrior in double figures with 16 points. Freshman Dallas Reich grabbed 10 rebounds and Hunter Hahn, the only WWCC sophomore in uniform, snagged nine.
Jared Downey, a 5-foot-10 freshman guard, came off the Spokane bench and drilled seven 3-point baskets for a team-high 23 points.
“Some of them were pretty contested, too,” Reinland said of Downey’s shooting display. “I would say he hit at least four of the seven right in our face.”
Brady Bagby added 16 points for the Sasquatch and Kwinn Hanson tallied 13. Bagby also led Spokane with 10 rebounds and Eric Holbrook dished out four assists.
Reinland is relatively certain that Radliff and Mills will be available Saturday against Big Bend. He just worries that some of his other players might come down with flu symptoms in the meantime.
SPOKANE 81, WALLA WALLA 69
WALLA WALLA (69) — Rada 10-26 8-12 33, Reich 3-9 0-0 7, Hahn 3-12 1-4 9, Harr 5-11 4-4 16, Nooner 2-5 0-0 4, Scharf 0-2 0-0 0, Kennedy 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-65 13-20 69.
SPOKANE (81) — Edwards 3-9 0-0 7, Bracey 2-2 0-0 5, Nygaard 0-1 0-0 0, Downey 8-11 0-0 23, Holbrook 1-4 3-4 5, Vanderwiel 2-5 2-2 6, Druffel 1-1 0-0 2, Bagby 5-14 6-6 16, Haack 2-5 0-0 4, Hanson 6-11 1-4 13. Totals 30-63 12-16 81.
Halftime — SFCC 41-38. 3-point goals — WWCC 10-29 (Rada 5-13, Reich 1-5, Hahn 2-6, Harr 2-5), SFCC 9-27 (Edwards 1-7, Bracey 1-1, Downey 7-10). Total fouls — WWCC 14, SFCC 15. Fouled out — none. Rebounding — WWCC 32 (Reich 10), SFCC 41 (Bagby 10). Turnovers — WWCC 7, SFCC 10. Assists — WWCC 7 (Rada 2, Hahn 2), SFCC 15 (Bagby 5).