Warrior men in uphill battle into the NWAACC tourney
WALLA WALLA — Less than a week ago, Walla Walla Community College’s playoff picture was a muddled mess.
Going into tonight’s game against Blue Mountain in the Dietrich Dome, it’s perfectly clear.
The Warrior men’s basketball team must win its final two games — it hosts Columbia Basin on Saturday — and hope that Spokane can somehow lose its final two games. The Sasquatch are on the road at Yakima tonight and at Big Bend Saturday.
If both of those scenarios come true, the Warriors will own at least a share of fourth place in the NWAACC Eastern Region and a pathway to the NWAACC Championships that commence March 1 in Kennewick.
The East sends four teams to the tournament and Spokane is currently in fourth place with a 7-5 record. Walla Walla, Yakima and Wenatchee are in a three-way deadlock for fifth place with identical 5-7 records.
Yakima visits Wenatchee Saturday after entertaining Spokane tonight. Wenatchee is home against Big Bend tonight.
Treasure Valley (9-3) and Columbia Basin and Big Bend (each at 8-4) have already punched their tickets to the tournament. Treasure Valley is at CBC tonight and home to Blue Mountain Wednesday.
In the event of a two-way tie for fourth place between Walla Walla and Spokane, or a three-way tie with Walla Walla, Spokane and either Yakima or Wenatchee, the Warriors would be awarded fourth place based on their season sweep of the Sasquatch.
Blue Mountain comes to town tonight with a 1-11 East record, but Warriors coach Jeff Reinland is wary of the Timberwolves. Especially in light of the fact that his leading scorer, Satchel Schetzle, is still limited with a sprained ankle.
“They’re not that bad,” Reinland said of the Timberwolves. “And we’re kind of down right now. We got pounded pretty good last Saturday (an 84-69 loss at Big Bend) and Satchel was able to play just 15 minutes.”
And Columbia Basin, Reinland noted, will be another difficult test.
“We don’t match up very well with CBC,” he said. “That said, they don’t match up very well with us.”
WALLA WALLA — Bobbi Hazeltine is breathing easy this week.
At a point in the season when the pressure usually mounts as postseason prospects hang in the balance, Hazeltine’s Walla Walla Community College women’s basketball team is virtually locked into second place in the NWAACC’s Eastern Region.
With two home games remaining on their regular-season schedule, the Warriors are 8-2 in the division and find themselves two games behind first-place Columbia Basin and three games up on third-place Blue Mountain. Interestingly, the Timberwolves invade the Dietrich Dome tonight and the Hawks come to town Saturday to close out the regular campaign.
In theory, the Warriors could still catch CBC and claim a share of the East title. But the Hawks entertain last-place Treasure Valley (0-12) tonight, and barring some kind of miraculous turnaround on the part of the Chukars, Columbia Basin will be wearing the division crown by the time it arrives in Walla Walla Saturday afternoon.
So for all practical purposes, these games don’t mean a thing as far as the Warriors are concerned.
“It’s great,” Hazeltine said. “It looks like we are locked in at No. 2 no matter what happens. I don’t think we’ve ever been in a spot like this where we can’t move up or down, and it’s kind of nice.
“I know I am going to be a lot more relaxed coaching.”
That doesn’t mean the Warriors will be mailing in their efforts this week.
“We’re still preparing just as hard as we would if it mattered,” Hazeltine said. “The one thing we may do is hold Amy DeLong out because she has some health issues.”
DeLong, a 5-foot-9 sophomore forward out of Vale, Ore., is the Warriors’ leading scorer at 11.9 points a game. She fainted in a team huddle during the second half of last Saturday’s 83-72 victory at Big Bend.
DeLong was removed from the game, saw her doctor Monday and was scheduled for an MRI today.
“It’s kind of a mysterious thing and we are being very cautious,” Hazeltine said. “It’s a head thing, and a year ago she got hit in the nose. That’s the only thing we can think of.
“She wants to play very bad. We told her we would rather have her ready to play at the NWAACCs.”
DeLong not only leads the team in scoring, she is among the team’s best rebounders, Hazeltine said.
“She is our most experienced kid, and we lose a lot of scoring and a lot of rebounding when she’s not in there,” the coach said. “We haven’t really made a decision as far as who will replace her. We’ve been playing with a bunch of different lineups and we will probably replace her by committee.”
The fact that the Warriors are where they are heading into the final week of the season is something of a miracle in itself. When league play commenced back in early January, Hazeltine hinted that this might be the year her team’s impressive NWAACC run would come to an end.
Instead, the Warriors will be appearing in their 14th consecutive championship tournament when it begins March 1 in Kennewick.
“I just think that we got smarter and mentally tougher,” Hazeltine said of her team’s steady improvement throughout the season. “I don’t think it was ever as much about physical ability as it was about understanding the game.
“But I will tell you what, between December and January something clicked. I really believe we have grown up a lot. I don’t know if I have ever had a team improve this much, and I am really proud of them.”
Whatever happened was the product of hard work, not only on the players’ part but the teams coaches as well.
“We have done things with this team that we have never done before,” Hazeltine said. “Such as individual sessions and position specific groups, and we have never spent as much time in the film room as this year.
“And I have to give my assistant coaches a ton of credit for all of the little things we have done.”
Mark Lindgren is in his 11th season as a member of the Warriors’ coaching staff, Curtis Pumphrey is in his fourth and former WWCC stars Becky Tompkins and Kati Isham are in their third and second years, respectively.
Hazeltine expects Blue Mountain and Columbia Basin to bring their ‘A’ games into the Dietrich Dome. The Timberwolves need to win one of their remaining two games — they entertain Treasure Valley Saturday — to guarantee their second trip to the NWAACCs in three seasons, and the Hawks are bearing down on an undefeated league record.
“I think both of these games should be great games,” Hazeltine said. “Both teams are going to be coming in here determined to win.
“And I don’t want anyone to think that these games don’t matter to us because we are resting Amy. We are resting Amy for the best interest of Amy.”