WALLA WALLA — The Walla Walla High School boys basketball season came to an abrupt end at the hands of Chiawana’s Victor Koval on Friday.
Koval scored eight of his game-high 18 points, including two pivotal 3-pointers, in the final two minutes of regulation as the Riverhawks beat Wa-Hi, 57-54, in the semifinals of the district tournament.
“We knew he could shoot a little bit,” Wa-Hi coach John Golden said of Koval. “He stepped out and hit big shots. We still gave ourselves a chance at the end, that’s what I like. These kids never got down. They never hung their heads.”
The Blue Devils found themselves in nearly an identical situation — a one-possession game with five second remaining — to the last time these two teams met on Feb. 7. But this time Chiawana hung on as Dylan Steele’s attempt at the buzzer came up just short of tying the game.
Wa-Hi opened its largest lead since the first quarter, 50-43, with five minutes remaining, as Adam Little came off the bench to knock down a clutch 3-pointer. After the Blue Devils hauled in a Chiawana miss, Little streaked into the frontcourt with a Riverhawk defender trailing him. As he stopped at the top of the arc, Little’s defender flew past him and left him with more than enough room to bury the trey.
But Chiawana immediately responded with a 9-0 run over the next four minutes, capped by Koval’s first 3-pointer to give Chiawana a 52-50 lead. Gabe Porter responded on Wa-Hi’s ensuing possession with a dramatic fadeaway that tumbled through the net as the shot clock expired. But after Koval knocked down his next 3-pointer, the Blue Devils committed a critical turnover, which handed the ball back to the Riverhawks.
“We were evenly matched,” Golden said. “They hit a couple shots at the end and we weren’t able to. Credit to them. We hit our shots last week and we didn’t hit them tonight. A lot of that had to do with Chiawana.”
Chiawana’s defense restricted the Blue Devils to only 30 percent shooting after halftime, while the Riverhawks connected on 48 percent of their shots during the same stretch.
Chiawana held Wa-Hi scoreless for nearly three minutes in the third quarter after Porter opened the quarter with a quick five-point swing. But Porter went back to work midway through the quarter, as he hauled in his own miss and fought back through the defense to finish the layup for an and-one opportunity. After his free throw made it 35-33, guard Eric Klicker found Steele for a 3-pointer and senior Spencer Locati added a 3-ball of his own for a 41-38 advantage.
Porter and fellow senior Ross Lake both scored a game-high 14 points. Lake also finished with a team-high nine rebounds.
“We got some good contributions of the bench,” Golden said. “Spencer Locati — everything he’s been through with the injuries — and he comes in and hits a big shot for us. Adam Little comes in and hits a big shot.”
Wa-Hi’s biggest lead came in the opening period, as the Blue Devils stormed to a 15-4 lead in the first six minutes of play. The offense worked through Lake early on, as he came up with four points in the opening quarter.
But in what would proved to be the theme of the game, the Riverhawks simply refused to quit. Chiawana scored a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to end the first quarter, before opening the second quarter on an 11-3 run. Both Lake and Porter picked up their second personal fouls midway through the second frame, which restricted both of them to only nine minutes of court time in the first half.
“We came out with a good run to start the game and that was great to see,” Golden said. “Then they made their run. I looked up at halftime and we’re tied and our two top scorers are sitting on the bench. That’s encouraging. They’re tough to guard.”
Chiawana’s Wesley Henderson, who scored a game-high 20 points in the last meeting, finished with only 12 points on 5-of-12 shooting. Senior Darnell Handcox drew the assignment of slowing down Henderson, and Golden credited Handcox for his seemingly nonstop effort on defense.
“Darnell, he’s athletic and he’s really a pretty good match up for Henderson,” Golden said. “He’s not an easy guard and I thought Darnell did a nice job.”
Wa-Hi will lose eight seniors to graduation — Porter, Klicker, Lake, Locati, Handcox, Nate Sumerlin, Josh Giles and Andrew Gogl — and return only four players from this year’s varsity squad.
Golden commended his team for their unrelenting work and said the Blue Devils should be proud of what they accomplished this season.
“They’re a tight-knit team and a lot of fun to be around,” he said. “That’s probably the hardest part, that I don’t get to be around them anymore. We all know that happens this time of year but we were hoping that didn’t happen.”
Chiawana 57, Walla Walla 54
CHIAWANA (57) — Harris 0-1 0-0 0, Singleton 2-9 0-0 4, Dorton 2-5 0-0 5, Wren 7-11 0-0 16, Mendoza 0-4 2-2 2, Koval 5-9 7-10 18, Henderson 5-12 1-2 12. Totals 21-51 10-14 57.
WALLA WALLA (54) — Steele 3-9 0-1 7, Klicker 2-10 2-2 7, Porter 5-11 3-6 14, Locati 1-5 0-0 3, Lake 6-13 2-4 14, Little 1-2 0-0 3, Harvey 2-4 0-1 6, Handcox 0-5 0-0 0. Totals 20-59 7-14 54.
Chiawana 12 15 13 17 — 57
Wa-Hi 17 10 14 13 — 54
3-point goals — Chiawana 5 (Wren 2, Koval 2, Dorton), Wa-Hi 7 (Harvey 2, Little, Locati, Porter, Klicker, Steele). Total fouls — Chiawana 16, Wa-Hi 13. Fouled out — none. Technical fouls — none. Total rebounds — Chiawana 38 (Koval 14), Wa-Hi 37 (Lake 9). Turnovers — Chiawana 11, Wa-Hi 9. Assists — Chiawana 8 (Henderson 3), Wa-Hi 11 (Handcox 4).