NEA, NE2B district basketball tournament preview

By: 
Taylor Newquist
Sports Editor

NEA BOYS SET FOR SURPRISES

The second half of the Northeast A League boys basketball regular season was a complete turnaround from the first half. At the halfway point, where each team had played each other once, Medical Lake and Deer Park sat on top with 5-1 league records. Freeman was right behind at 4-2, followed by Newport (3-3), Lakeside (2-4), Colville (1-5) and Riverside (1-5). The next games saw Colville rise from the cellar, flipping the script of recent years with a 4-2 run—tied for second best in that time. Freeman was the top team in the second half with a 5-1 record, winning the league and securing a bye in the first round, where they await the winner of Colville at Newport on Feb. 11. Both the Indians and Grizzlies closed out their season with a 4-2 run. Colville beat Newport at home 74-52 on Jan. 21, that snapped a nine-year losing streak. Earlier in the year, the two teams opened league play against each other, with the Grizzlies winning 71-62. The first-round match-up between the two should prove to be tightly contested, as both teams have been playing their best basketball of the season in recent weeks. Colville is led by senior Jory Dotts, who finished second on the list of the NEA’s interleague scoring leaders this year at 18.9 points a game. “Jory’s been big,” Colville head coach Braden Titmus said. “He’s been the heartbeat of the team so far. Teams have to game plan for him and everybody knows that. We feed him when we can, and he does what he does.” Dotts said the recent success has been a nice change. “We’re having more fun together,” Dotts said. “We’re excited for the games instead of dreading them.” Around Dotts, the Indians’ sophomore class of Rhett Foulkes (No. 10 in interleague scoring), Conner Marshall, Makennon Floener, Austin True and Brock Weilep have made strides in their confidence down the stretch, coming into their own in clutch situations. In a 2OT win over Riverside on Jan. 31, Foulkes and Marshall connected on back-to-back 3-pointers to tie the game at the end of the first overtime, after Marshall had already tied the game at the end of regulation with a layup in the closing seconds. Five days later against Lakeside, Dotts put the Indians up late 75-74, but the Eagles had an inbound play near mid-court with just over eight seconds left. As a Lakeside player drove to the hoop, Foulkes blocked him from behind, securing the win and the best regular season for Colville boys basketball since 2015. “If we play like we have the last couple of weeks, we can beat anybody,” Titmus said. The other first round match-up will be between Lakeside and Medical Lake, who will go on to face Deer Park. Whichever teams escape from the first round will have a 75% chance of advancing, as second and third place will play in Glue Crossovers with the Caribou Trail League and first place earns a birth to state. If Colville advance past Newport, they’ll go onto play Freeman at West Valley High School on Friday at 6:30 p.m. The Scotties beat the Indians twice this year, 59-46 on Jan. 18 and 63-40 on Feb. 1. Freeman doesn’t have a single prolific scorer, but dominates with team basketball. They have four players nearly averaging 10 points a game in interleague scoring with Boen Phelps (12.0), Tucker Scarlett (10.3), Gabe Tippett (9.8) and Kaleb Ohler (9.8). Don’t expect anything but chaos when the ball tips in this tournament.

FREEMAN THE FAVORITE FOR NEA GIRLS

Before the district tournament tips off, state births for Northeast A League girls basketball teams feel further from reach than they do in the boys tournament. The NEA girls tournament will have two births to the regional round of the state tournament, while the boys have one automatic state birth and two more teams advancing to crossover glue games with the Caribou Trail League. The CTL declined the crossover games for the girls division this year, leaving the two births for the NEA, instead of the one birth and chance of two more from the glue crossovers. Colville’s head coach John Foulkes said the choice comes down to the CTL wanting to protect its second seed. “We’re always at the will of the CTL League,” Foulkes said. “We’ve tried to entice them to gamble in those crossover games.” “It makes it awful tough for us. Those glue games were at least a chance, but it is what it is. True double-elimination.” One of the two available state births almost feels locked in with Freeman, who ran the league table to a 12-0 record with 18-2 overall. The Scotties enter the tournament as the No.5 ranked team in maxpreps.com’s RPI rankings. Over the course of the season, the Scotties both scored more and allowed less points than any other team in the league. Freeman awaits the winner of Colville (6-6, 11-9) and Riverside (4-8, 7-12). The Indians will host the Rams in a loser-out game Wednesday at 6:30 p.m., with all following games at West Valley High School. Colville defeated Riverside twice during the regular season, 56-48 at home on Jan. 16 and 60-40 on the road on Jan. 31. After the regular season, the Indians found themselves right in the middle of the league table, with a .500 league record. Colville swept each team below them in the standings and were swept by each team above them, leaving them with a jump to make if the Indians hope to come out of districts with one of the two state births. “Riverside is formidable,” Foulkes said. “They proved that against us the last time we played them. (Sam) Riggles is good inside and she’s given our bigs trouble.” If the Indians are able to defeat Riverside, they’ll be tasked with taking on Freeman. Win or lose they’ll have another game. The winners of the semifinals advance to the championship, while the losers plays each other in loser-out game. The winner of the loser-out then plays the loser of the championship for the second state birth. Colville will be led by sophomore Mckenna Reggear, who finished third in the interleague scoring list with 12.8 points a game. Adding to the front court is lengthy freshman Jordyn True, who found her groove in the middle of the season, scoring 56 points over four games. She averaged 9.3 in interleague scoring over the season and will be crucial to the Indians’ success in the playoffs. Another key for Colville will be its senior back court, mainly of Katelynn Lewis and Breezy Clark. Lewis averaged 9.1 points a game in interleague scoring, but her and Clark do a large part of the facilitating for Colville and will be crucial protecting the perimeter. If the Indians are to pull off an upset and make the state tournament three things will be key: Reggear will shoot a high percentage of her jump shots, they’ll maintain composure against the press and True will stay aggressive on rebounds. “It’ll be a tall order considering we haven’t beat those teams that’ll be predictably in the final four,” Foulkes said. “But those games have been close. I like the odds of our experience of our seniors in the back court bringing that to playoff basketball.”

SOUTH LOOKS SUPREME FOR THE NE2B BOYS

When the North and South divisions of the Northeast 2B boys basketball league come together for their district tournament this week, strength of schedule and head to head match-ups suggest teams from the South will be the tougher out. Twelve teams from the North and South will fight for four births to the regional round of the state tournament, with the top two teams from each division receiving a first round bye. Five teams in the states’ top 18 RPI ranked schools are packed into the NE2B tournament. No.1 ranked Liberty and No.7 ranked St. George’s represent the top seeds from each division, while No.14 ranked Lind-Ritzville/Sprague and No. 18 Kettle Falls are the two second seeds. No. 17 Colfax are the only on of the top 20 teams to play in the first round and will likely advance past Northwest Christian to play a crucial game against Kettle Falls at West Valley High School on Thursday at a time to be determined. Colfax previously beat NWC 59-36 and shouldn’t have many difficulties a second time around. Colfax’s only other game against a NE2B North team was a narrow 54-52 loss to St. George’s, who cruised through each of its league games by at least a double figure margin. Kettle Falls will have its hands full in the second round and will rely on senior co-captains Matthew Thompson and Cade McKern to be lights out shooting from the field and lead their team in scoring. The two were fourth and fifth in NE2B North interleague scoring (Thompson 15.7 ppg, McKern 13.7), but the Bulldogs struggled when their leaders shooting stroke was off in games this year. Last year, Kettle Falls was the No.4 seed and lost its opening round to LRS 54-49, before losing to Chewelah 60-46 the next round. There’s no doubt the Bulldogs’ seven-man senior class will be hungry to redeem themselves. A win in the opening round would pit Kettle Falls against Liberty or the winner of Tekoa-Rosalia/Davenport. It’d be hard to imagine the undefeated Lancers losing their first game, making Kettle Falls’ road all-the-more challenging. A loss in the opening round would send the Bulldogs into the loser bracket against the loser of Wilbur-Creston/Reardan. They would need to win three games to make the third/fourth place game and guarantee a birth to the regional round. If Kettle Falls wins its first game and loses its second, the Bulldogs would need two wins to make the third/fourth place game. Chewelah enters the tournament as the No.3 seed from the North and the No.34 team according to RPI. The Cougars have an opening round game against Asotin on Monday. A win sets Chewelah against LRS on Thursday, while a loss would have them play the loser of Liberty/Tekoa-Rosalia/Davenport on Saturday at 2 p.m. The Cougars will rely on Jaron Baldwin and Lukas Kubic, who were sixth and seventh in NE2B North interleague scoring this year. Chewelah’s only game this year against the South was a 61-38 loss to Liberty, while Asotin defeated Davenport 41-33 and lost to Northwest Christian 35-34. Most of the Cougars’ success came earlier in the season, as they closed out with one win in their last four league games, including five of their last eight games. Asotin has one win since Dec. 17.

NE2B GIRLS LOADED WITH STATE'S BEST

If the favorites have anything to say about it, the same three teams will advance to state from the Northeast 2B girls district tournament as last year. No matter what, all the teams won’t be the same, as a fourth birth to the regional round has been added to this year’s tournament. Battling for those four spots will be eight of the top 25 RPI ranked 2B teams in the state, with three teams ranked inside the top five. First place seeds No.1 Liberty and No.3 Davenport lead the way, along with second place seeds No.5 St. George’s and No.11 Lind-Ritzville/Sprague earning first round byes. No.15 Colfax, No. 16 Kettle Falls, No. 21 Northwest Christian and No. 23 Reardan all open the first round, with expectations on advancing to the semifinal. Losing teams in the first round will go to a loser-out game and await a losing team from the semifinal. Teams in the first loser-out game will need three wins to make the third/fourth place game that guarantees a birth to regionals. Kettle Falls opens against Upper Columbia Academy on Monday night, with the winner playing LRS. The Bulldogs shouldn’t have any problems in the first round, having played their best basketball as of late. Kettle Falls won their last four games, including eight of their last 10. The Bulldogs most recently defeated Northwest Christian 49-35 for the second time this year, something that an emotional head coach Tyler Edwards said was historic for the program, following the senior night win that pushed Kettle Falls over the Crusaders in the standings. “It showed senior leadership,” T.Edwards said. “Kids stepping up, making good decisions, finishing shots and just playing their hearts out. It’s a great group of kids and it’s been fun all year.” “I’m proud of them. They have a chance to go out and do something that Kettle Falls traditionally hasn’t been able to do. I’ve been working with those kids since they were fourth graders. My daughter is two years behind them, so I’ve been chasing them around for a long time and, you know, it’s like a family. I think they’ve set a tone here in Kettle Falls. They’ve developed this program. I’m proud of the people they are.” The Bulldogs enter the tournament looking continue to gain an edge with their speed and shooting from their back court. Sophomore Mya Edwards closed the season as the leader in NE2B North interleague scoring, averaging 14.3 points a game. Not far behind, senior Zarah Johnson is equally as capable of lighting up the score sheet and finished eighth in interleague scoring at a 12.2 per game average. M.Edwards and Johnson are as much cross country stars as they are on the basketball court, which they routinely use to their advantage—pushing the floor with their speed and staying up for full court press on defense. Key for the Bulldogs will be the play of their forwards on the glass, getting rebounds for their speedy guards to break out into space on transition. The Bulldogs will need to make a jump to emerge from the tightly contested field and secure a state birth. In the regular season, Kettle Falls’ four league losses all came against St. George’s and Davenport, with the Bulldogs losing by single figures the first time and double digits in late January. With their only game against South division teams coming from a 76-37 rout of last place Tekoa-Rosalia, it’s hard to gauge how Kettle Falls will fare against LRS in the second round (assuming the Bulldogs beat UCA). The two faced a common opponent with Davenport, who beat LRS 46-39 on Dec. 21. Kettle Falls lost to Davenport 47-38 on Jan. 3 and 55-33 on Jan. 24.

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