WALLA WALLA — Both the Walla Walla High School boys and girls basketball teams had extra motivation on Friday.
The two teams honored longtime coach Jim Smith, who died Wednesday afternoon, with triumphant wins against Chiawana.
“We battled through all kind of different emotions with Smitty and that was really tough,” boys coach John Golden said. “But our guys throughout the whole program — our freshmen, our sophomores and our JV — everybody really persevered all week under tough circumstances.”
“I feel like we had a little angel watching over us tonight in Jim Smith,” girls coach Jill Meliah said. “It was nice to get that win for Smitty as well.”
The girls team, who opened the night with a stunning 50-47 overtime win against Chiawana, were only overshadowed by the boys’ improbable victory. After opening the game with a moment of silence for the coach affectionately known as “Smitty”, each Wa-Hi player tapped the empty chair designated for Smith during pregame introductions.
With the coaches sporting blue ribbons in honor of Smith, the Blue Devils boys found themselves down two late in regulation. But Gabe Porter sent the crowd into a frenzy as he nailed a game-winning 3-pointer as time expired.
“Jim Smith — one hell of a coach,” he said after the game. “He’s been with me as long as I can think of. It’s for him — every time I play, it’s all for him.”
With the win, Wa-Hi guaranteed a first-round bye and a No. 2 seed in the district tournament. The Blue Devils don’t know their next opponent yet, but Golden said there’s no doubt Smith is already busy working on the game plan.
“There’s no coaching handbook to how to handle what we’ve been through,” Golden said. “I know he’s up there smiling down on us and he’s already looking at film and scouting for the next game.”