WALLA WALLA — It was too little, too late for the Blue Devils Friday night at the Wa-Hi gymnasium.
Gonzaga Prep built a 15-point lead over the first half of their boys regional loser-out contest with Walla Walla and hung on for a 64-56 victory after Wa-Hi made a late run to keep its season alive.
The Blue Devils pulled to within five, 54-49, midway throught the fourth quarter, but the Bullpups, ranked No. 9 in the final Associated Press poll, made 8-of-8 free throws down the stretch to seal the victory.
“We couldn’t get it any closer,” said Wa-Hi coach John Golden, whose team began to foul down 58-51 with a minute left in the game. “But like I said, I’m really proud of my guys all season long. We played for the district title, we got into regionals; these guys, they’ve got a lot to be proud of because they really imroved.
“We hit that slide or slump in the middle of the season and they got themselves out of it,” Golden said. “It just wasn’t meant to be tonight. Gonzaga Prep was better than we were tonight.”
The Blue Devils, who began the year 9-0 before losing eight of 11 over the remainder of the regular season, end the year at 14-10.
Wa-Hi’s Gabe Porter led all scorers with 18 points on 7-of-14 shooting from the field, including a 3-of-6 mark from beyond the three.
He scored 10 in the second half, including a 3-pointer from near midcourt as time expired in the third to give bring Wa-Hi within 10 heading into the final frame.
Tanner Cranor, a 6-foot-8 center and one of eight seniors Wa-Hi will be losing to graduation, fought through double teams all night to score 16 points on 4-of-13 shooting from the field and showed an improved game at the free-throw, hitting 8-of-12 from the stripe.
“There’s no secret what teams are trying to do to (Cranor),” Golden said of the double team, “and I thought he passed the ball out well tonight. He passed the ball out and we got some good looks. We knocked a few down, but just not enough.”
Cranor hit four of those free throws to spark Wa-Hi’s fourth-quarter push.
Erik Klicker took a steal at the top of the key in for two and Porter hit a lay-in plus one to cap a 9-4 rally as Wa-Hi clawed back into contention, down 54-49 with 4:12 left to play.
But Gonzaga Prep was able to run off the clock while scoring enough to rebuild a eight-point lead by the end of the game to send Wa-Hi into the offseason.
“Every time they would take the clock down they’d get a big bucket,” Golden said. “... We got stops, but you’ve got to give them credit, that’s a pretty good team.”
Prep had four players hit double figures in the win, shooting 21-of-43 (48.8 percent) from the field and a lights-out 18-of-19 (94.7 percent) from the line.
Ryan Alexander led the Bullpups with 17 points and Sam Dowd added 16. Brendan McClary scored 12, including a 6-of-6 mark at the line, four of which came at the end of the game to ice the victory.
Wa-Hi hit 21-of-48 from the field (43.7 percent) but fell behind at the line, where the Blue Devils hit just 9-of-14.
Wa-Hi held a narrow 27-26 advantage on the boards and committed 15 turnovers while Prep gave up 12.
Guards Klicker and Porter, as well as injured guard Spencer Locati, will all return next year. However the Blue Devils will have some big shoes to fill, as eight seniors, including most of the team’s big men, will be leaving the program.
“We’ve got some good kids coming in,” Golden said. “We’ll just try to reload and get back here next year. There’s a lot of work to be done and I’m proud of my guys and proud of my seniors for their effort all year long, it just came to an end tonight.”
GONZAGA PREP 64, WALLA WALLA 56
GONZAGA PREP (64) — Dowd 5-12 5-5 16, Gruber 1-3 0-0 2, Alexander 5-9 4-4 17, McClary 3-5 6-6 12, Hoerner 0-0 0-0 0, Chapman 3-6 1-2 7, Groh 4-7 2-2 10, Elofson 0-0 0-0 0, Kuykendall 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 21-43 18-19 64.
WALLA WALLA (56) — Toon 0-0 0-0 0, Klicker 3-7 0-0 7, Porter 7-14 1-1 18, Thonney 0-1 0-0 0, Eggart 1-5 0-0 2, Arias 4-5 0-1 9, Gilmore 1-1 0-0 2, Cranor 4-13 8-12 16. Totals 21-48 9-14 56.
GP 18 13 19 14 — 64
WW 13 11 16 16 — 56
3-pointers — GP 4-14 (Dowd, Alexander 3), Wa-Hi 5-10 (Klicker, Porter 3, Arias). Total fouls — GP 18, WW 16. Fouled out — none. Technical fouls — none. Rebounding — GP 26 (Chapman 14), WW 27 (Cranor 7). Turnovers — GP 12, WW 15. Assists — GP 12 (Alexander 4, McClary 4), WW 12 (Eggart 3).