WALLA WALLA — Where there’s life, there’s hope.
And Walla Walla Community College’s men’s basketball team is still alive in its bid for a return trip to the NWAACC Championships that will be played March 2-5 at the Toyota Center in Yakima.
The Warriors entered Saturday night’s game in the Dietrich Dome against Eastern Division-leading Big Bend needing a victory over the Vikings or a Blue Mountain loss at Yakima to stay alive in the battle for the division’s fourth and final tournament ticket.
Thank you very much, Yakima.
While the hot-and-cold Warriors fell short against the Vikings, 73-67, the Yaks prevented Blue Mountain from clinching the final tourney berth with a 75-67 victory. And that sets the stage for next Wednesday’s Walla Walla-Blue Mountain showdown in Pendleton that will decide that final berth.
The Timberwolves, 7-6 in the division and 13-12 overall, are one game up on Walla Walla, which slipped to 6-7 and 12-12. But the Warriors already own a 72-55 league victory over Blue Mountain when the teams met Jan. 9 in Walla Walla, and a sweep of the series would knot the teams for fourth place and hand the tournament ticket to WWCC based on the head-to-head tiebreaker.
However, in the moments after Saturday’s loss WWCC coach Jeff Reinland was unaware that Blue Mountain had lost as well.
“Completely out of our hands,” he said at the time.
Now it’s completely back in his team’s hands. If only the Warriors could get healthy.
Reinland’s team has been playing shorthanded almost the entire season due to injuries and defections. In recent games, the flu has taken its toll as well and the WWCC coach used just seven players against the gifted Vikings Saturday night.
Things went well at the outset as Walla Walla knocked down nine of its first 18 shots from the floor, including five 3-point baskets, and stormed out to a 27-17 lead with 7:17 remaining before the intermission. But as fatigue set in, the Warriors sank just five of their last 17 shots and their lead dwindled to 31-30 at the break.
“We came out OK, but as the half wore on we couldn’t hit our shots,” Reinland said. “And we had some good, open looks. I thought we could have been up 10-or-12 points at halftime.”
The Vikings used a 7-2 run to open the second half to take a 37-33 lead. Hunter Hahn’s basket cut the difference to 37-35 with 15:44 on the second-half clock, but two 3-pointers by Kyle Nield, another by Kamen McCullough and two free throws by Nield enabled Big Bend to open up a 48-36 advantage.
Although the Warriors mounted one mini comeback after another over the game’s final 12 minutes, they never drew closer than five points as Big Bend held firm to the lead and the victory.
Westendorf scored 20 points to pace the Vikings, with Nield and Ryan Page adding 16 and 15 points, respectively. Nield also snagged 10 rebounds and Westendorf and Kevin Walker contributed five assists each.
Walla Walla’s Case Rada led all scorers with 27 points, but they came at a cost. Rada was 9-for-25 from the field overall and 5-for-18 from beyond the 3-point line.
Dylan Radliff, who hadn’t practiced all week because of the flu, scored 11 points and Eric Harr was a third Warrior in double figures with 10 points.
Hunter Hahn finished with nine points and 10 rebounds for WWCC, and Rada was credited with three assists.
“We just want to get to feeling better, go down to Blue Mountain, play a good game and have some fun,” Reinland said, still not knowing if Wednesday’s game would matter in regard to the tournament.
BIG BEND 73, WWCC 67
BIG BEND (73) — Walker 1-3 0-0 3, Westendorf 7-14 5-7 20, Johnson 1-5 2-2 5, Snachez 0-0 1-2 1, Funston 3-5 0-1 7, Nield 6-16 2-2 16, McCullough 2-9 0-0 6, Page 6-13 3-4 15. Totals 26-65 13-18 73.
WALLA WALLA (67) — Radliff 4-7 1-2 11, Rada 9-25 4-5 27, Reich 1-2 0-0 2, Hahn 4-12 0-0 9, Harr 3-10 1-2 10, Nooner 2-4 0-0 4, Scharf 2-4 0-0 4. Totals 25-64 11-31 67.
Halftime — WWCC 31, Big Bend 30. 3-point goals — Big Bend 8-24 (Walker 1-3, Westendorf 1-4, Johnson 1-4, Funston 1-2, Nield 2-5, McCullough 2-6), WWCC 11-31 (Radliff 2-3, Rada 5-18, Reich 0-1, Hahn 1-2, Harr 3-7). Total fouls — WWCC 12, Big Bend 9, Fouled out — none. Technical fouls — none. Rebounds — Big Bend 36 (Nield 10), WWCC 34 (Hahn 10). Turnovers — WWCC 13, Big Bend 11. Assists — Big Bend 17 (Walker 5, Westendorf 5), WWCC 9 (Rada 3).