WALLA WALLA — It was a fitting senior night for Walla Walla High School hooper Gabe Porter on Friday.
With the Blue Devils trailing by two points to visiting Chiawana and only five seconds remaining in the game, Porter grabbed the inbound pass and made his way up court. As Riverhawk defenders surrounded him, Porter calmly raced to the right wing and rose up behind the 3-point line.
His shot bounded through the net as the time expired to send Wa-Hi to a 56-55 win.
“I don’t even have the words,” Porter said after the game. “I’m in shock. You don’t live up to that everyday — it’s a prayer. I don’t even know how to put in words.”
“The play was to get the ball in his hand and however we were going to do it, it didn’t really matter,” Wa-Hi coach John Golden said. “I don’t have any problem putting the ball in his hands at the end of the games because he can deliver.”
With the win, the Blue Devils (13-7, 9-5 in Mid-Columbia Conference) clinched the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye heading into the district tournament. The loss sends Chiawana (10-9, 8-6) into the No. 4 seed, where it will meet Pasco in a loser-out game on Tuesday.
But securing the win was a challenge.
The Blue Devils held a 43-40 lead heading into the final quarter, but behind Wesley Henderson and Lance Harris, Chiawana battled to reclaim the lead. After a pair of Henderson free throws and a putback from Harris, the Riverhawks held a 51-49 lead with less than four minutes remaining.
Senior Eric Klicker responded with a jumper from the top of the key to tie the game, but Henderson promptly answered with a jumper of his own. With under a minute in regulation and facing a two-point deficit, Porter grabbed the ball from the top of the lane and went around a cluster of defenders with a right-handed scoop shot that hit off the glass before falling in to tie the game at 53.
But Henderson would not be deterred, as he went right at the Wa-Hi defense and flipped up a right-handed bank shot of his own to give Chiawana its final lead of the game with five seconds remaining.
“He’s a good player,” Golden said of Henderson, who finished with a game-high 20 points. “He’s crafty. I thought at times our post defense was good. But at other times, we gave them some pretty easy looks.”
But Porter’s answer following the Henderson bucket proved to be the shot of the night.
“My heart was pumping,” he said. “Right when I put that up, I didn’t know what to think. But I did think that it might have a chance. Then everything stopped. It was just so surreal.”
Golden credited Porter for having a flair for the dramatic, but was quick to point out how well the rest of Wa-Hi’s roster performed. Senior post Ross Lake finished 9-of-13 from the floor en route to a team-high 19 points. Lake also battled foul trouble, but he finished the game despite picking up his fourth foul with four minutes left.
“Ross can score in and around (the hoop),” Golden said. “We tried to get some good looks and he makes good decisions. That was really what we’re trying to do.”
Porter hit 5-of-12 shots on the night, making 3-of-7 from 3 — including the game winner — and made all four of his free-throw attempts to score 17 points.
The Blue Devils’ other starting post, 6-foot-1 senior Darnell Handcox, finished with two points and five rebounds after battling against a taller Chiawana squad.“It’s not going to show in the stat sheet much, but he played really well,” Golden said of Handcox. “That’s three games in a row where he has battled his tail off and played really well for us. He’s just kind of an unsung hero.”
Porter, Lake, Handcox and Klicker, who returned from an ankle injury to score 12 points, represent only half of the seniors on the Wa-Hi roster. The remaining four — Andrew Gogl, Spencer Locati, Nate Sumerlin and Josh Giles — were also recognized before tip off.
Golden said all of his seniors made a tremendous impact on and off the floor this season.
“Just because some of them didn’t get in the game tonight, doesn’t mean they’re not important contributors,” Golden said. “They contribute everyday. They provide so much leadership all year long. I’m just really proud of all eight of them. They’ve been there together all year long.”
“It’s such a fun group of guys to play with,” Klicker said. “We all get along on and off the court. I wouldn’t want to play with anyone else but them.”
Wa-Hi hosts the winner of the Chiawana-Pasco loser-out game in the second round of the district playoffs Saturday.
WA-HI 56, CHIAWANA 55
CHIAWANA (55) — Mitchell 0-1 0-0 0, Harris 2-8 3-6 8, Singleton 4-8 0-0 11, Dorton 2-2 0-1 4, Wren 1-5 0-0 3, Mendoza 1-5 1-2 4, Koval 2-4 1-1 5, Henderson 6-9 8-12 20. Totals 18-42 13-22 55.
WA-HI (56) — Steele 1-1 0-0 2, Klicker 4-10 2-2 12, Porter 5-12 4-4 17, Locati 0-0 2-4 2, Lake 9-13 1-7 19, Little 1-2 0-0 2, Harvey 0-3 0-0 0, Handcox 1-3 0-0 2, Sumerlin 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-44 9-17 56.
Chiawana 17 13 10 15 — 55
Wa-Hi 16 14 13 13 — 56
3-point goals — Chiawana 6 (Singleton 3, Harris 1, Wren 1, Mendoza 1), Wa-Hi 5 (Porter 3, Klicker 2). Total fouls — Chiawana 15, Wa-Hi 17. Fouled out — none. Technical fouls — none. Total rebounds — Chiawana 32 (Singleton 9), Wa-Hi 27 (Lake 9). Turnovers — Chiawana 14, Wa-Hi 12. Assists — Chiawana 10 (Wren 3), Wa-Hi 13 (Steele 4).