TONASKET – With one mad full-court dash to cap a desperate fourth quarter rally, four years of frustration ended in sweet, tearful bedlam for the Tonasket boys basketball team.
Just as the Tigers cut down a 49-game Caribou Trail League losing streak with Thursday’s 56-55 victory over Omak, so did they cut down the net as part of an emotional post-game celebration with families and classmates that was more a catharsis than it was pure jubilation.
The game meant nothing in terms of playoffs or championships, but the outcome meant everything to the home squad. That it took every last ounce of willpower and energy just made it that much more satisfying.
The Tigers, paraphrasing the recently-released movie “Red Tails,” played their new mantra to the hilt: “To the last shot, to the last whistle, to the last horn, we fight!”
“I’ve pulled out everything from my motivational bag of tricks,” said Tonasket coach Glenn Braman. “That one was a little prophetic.”
The Tigers trailed by as many as 11 points in the third quarter and didn’t take their first lead until John Stedtfeld’s two free throws with 17.8 seconds left and made it 54-53. Omak’s Vince Carden broke free for a wide-open layup with 4.9 seconds left to give the lead back to the Pioneers.
Stedtfeld getting the last shot was no surprise. Finding a way to get him the ball in position to score against an Omak defense expecting just that took some doing.
Stedtfeld said that during the ensuing time out, assistant coach Tim Cork drew up the game-winning play, which saw him slide through a series of back-court screens, take the inbounds pass at a full sprint, dribble the length of the court and fire up a five-foot jumper over Carden as the buzzer sounded.
“Coach Cork drew it up and said ‘Get the ball to John and he’ll make it happen,’” Stedtfeld said. “(When) I saw it (go through), it was the best feeling in the world. It’s been so long since we’ve had a league win.”
“We were expecting a bit of pressure (defense), so we let John rub off the screens, catch the ball on the run and go,” Braman said. “Damon (Halvorsen) was on the weak side if John needed to pass it off, but we were hoping he could get to the hoop or draw a foul.”
The Tigers fell into an 11-point hole early, but Halvorsen’s four-point play to end the first quarter got his team back within five. Omak sharpshooter Country Pakootas, who was held in check by Michael Orozco’s defense most of the night, had a four-point play of his own to end the first half that put the Pioneers up 30-22. Omak matched its largest lead at 36-25 and seemed on the verge of pulling away late in the third quarter.
“We always talk about winning the first four minutes of the third quarter,” Braman said. “We didn’t really do that. We had gotten some good external looks, but we really were trying to get into attacking the rim more.”
Halvorsen, who like Stedtfeld experienced the last three full years of the CTL streak, provided a pair of key 3-pointers early in the fourth quarter that cut the Omak lead to four and opened the middle up for Orozco to drive and draw fouls on several key possessions.
“When we made that little run in the fourth, I started to believe we could do it,” Halvorsen said after his six-trey, 23-point effort. “I just tried to keep pumping everyone up and keep everyone fighting.”
“The last four minutes when we were down five, I knew we could get it,” said Stedtfeld, who finished with 19. “We were more intense. You could feel that we wanted it more.”
Orozco scored eight of his 10 points in the fourth quarter, including a 3-point play on which he scored by flinging the ball into the basket after he’d been tripped. That tied it at 50 with 1:53 left and had the Tonasket crowd shaking the bleachers.
Pakootas answered with a 3-point play but Halvorsen hit two free throws to cut it back to one before a flurry of turnovers and missed shots on both ends set up the frantic final 20 seconds.
LaGrou finished with 15 points and Carden had 13 for the Pioneers (7-13, 1-9), but Pakootas was held to eight.
“Michael (Orozco) had a huge challenge tonight with Pakootas,” Braman said. “Since middle school football, I’ve seen him do enough things to know that he’s a ‘gamer.’ I love his heart and his desire and his compassion. He’s pretty quiet, but always knows the right thing to say when things are tense.”
Without many options as far as big, physical defenders, that left Lazaro Ortega to contend with LaGrou.
“I mean, who puts Lazaro on LaGrou?” Braman said. “Laz was battling a sore back, too, so it was tough to keep him in there. But he held his own really well.
“The guys all knew that Pakootas and LaGrou were their keys, and Carden too. They really hurt us last time. It all came down to execution, being patient on offense and getting some defensive stops.”
And thanks to that, The Streak is dead.
“Its unreal,” Halvorsen said. “I can’t believe it. It’s the best feeling I’ve ever had.”
Cashmere 67, Tonasket 42
TONASKET – The Tigers closed out their season Saturday, Feb. 4, with a 67-42 loss at home to top-ranked Cashmere.
The Bulldogs ran out to a 15-4 first quarter lead and while the Tigers did a better job handling Cashmere’s full court press in the second half, the damage had been done.
“We made some good adjustments at halftime,” Braman said. “But we were not able to make a run on them….
“There is a reason they are the number 1 team in the state. They have all the parts needed to be a very good team. I was happy with our effort.”
John Stedtfeld scored 19 points and Damon Halvorsen added 11 for the Tigers, who finished at 8-12 (1-9 CTL).
“We saw some young guys in the last week really start to step up their play,” Braman said. “Our JV had a good season and there will be some nice players moving up next year. With the additions to our league next year it will again be competitive and we will have to continue our work in the offseason to put ourselves in a position to fight for more league wins and a spot in the playoffs.”
Okanogan 64, Tonasket 51
TONASKET – The Tigers put together their most complete effort of the season to date in a 64-51 loss to eighth-ranked Okanogan on Tuesday, Jan. 31.
The Bulldogs extended a 12-11 first quarter lead to a 31-23 halftime advantage and inched away from the Tigers in the second half, but never made the kind of big runs the Tigers gave up earlier in the season.
“We played the best four quarters of basketball we have all season,” Braman said. “Okanogan’s length and overall quickness make it a challenge in the rebounding department and their on-ball defense from Justin Rivas and Danny Parks is one of the best defensive guard duos around.”
Joe Townsend (29 points) and Marty Staggs (18) combined for all but 13 of the Bulldogs’ points.
Halvorsen paced the Tigers with 20 points, including 5-of-7 from the 3-point line, with Stedtfeld adding 14 and Orozco 11. Stedtfeld added eight rebounds, three assists and two steals.