ELLENSBURG - The last time the Mabton High School boys basketball team made it to State was in 1996. Eight years later, Mabton will be returning to the State 'B' tournament, earning a berth at the show in a way only the Vikings could-playing their type of game.
The Vikings earned a first-round bye in the Regional tournament this past weekend at Ellensburg High School, as a result of finishing second at the Greater Columbia 'B' League District Tournament.
The Vikings ended up playing host to Mansfield, which beat Trout Lake in a loser-out Regional contest this past Friday night, in Saturday night's Regional finale for the final boys' berth to State.
Mabton won the game 54-44, as the Kernels, who finished third in the North Central Washington League with a record of 13-11, decided they would play Mabton's game.
Saturday night, though, definitely belong to Mabton's Alex Zavala, who had a dominating game-high 28 points. For the game, Zavala shot better than 60 percent from the field. He was 3-for-7 from 3-point land. Zavala also hit 7-of-12 free throws.
Some key 3-pointers in the first half from Zavala and A.J. Valencia helped propel the Vikings. What kept the Kernels in the game was the play of Dusty Wittig, who had all 16 of his points in the first half.
Mansfield seemed content in the first half running the floor with the Vikings, who generally play that type of floor game. The Kernels didn't fare all that well with their game plan, as Mabton ended up being in the bonus at the free throw line midway through the second quarter.
Mansfield's foul troubles in the first half carried over into the last two quarters.
The Kernels trailed 27-21 at the break. The Vikings put some more distance between them and Mansfield with a 15-11 spurt in the third quarter. Both teams posted a 12-point fourth period.
Mabton Coach Brock Ledgerwood said the Vikings were able to run their press effectively against Mansfield, which caused the Kernels problems with scoring. Ledgerwood said the Vikes were able to corral Wittig, a 6'3" senior post player, in the second half.
In the second half, the Kernels had to come out playing man-to-man defense, as they tried to play catch-up.
The difference in the game can be found at the free throw line. Mabton went 17-of-31 from the charity stripe while the Kernels didn't attempt one free throw for the game.
Valencia was key for the Vikings at the free throw line, hitting 5-of-6 attempts.
Ledgerwood said he was proud of the way his young team performed in what is relatively new surroundings to them.
"I thought we came out and played hard for the entire game," said Ledgerwood.
The Vikes are going to have to come ready to play this Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. in their first game of the State 'B' tournament at the Spokane Arena.
Mabton drew Republic, which has won 21 consecutive games. Republic ended the season as the fourth ranked 'B' boys basketball team in the State. Mabton, though, knocked off top ranked Riverside Christian earlier in the year. Republic defeated Wilbur-Creston 60-48 in the Bi-County League District finale to gain a top seed to State.
Ledgerwood said Republic will have the height advantage, but he is hoping the speed of his team can cause some foul problems.
Mabton is in the same portion of the State bracket as Neah Bay (19-2) and DeSales (19-5).
"If we can execute our game plan, we will be alright," said Ledgerwood.
1 2 3 4 T
Mansfield 7 14 11 12 44
Mabton 12 15 15 12 54
Scoring: Mabton-Alex Zavala 28, A.J. Valencia 12, Andy Rodriguez 6, Manuel Palacios 4, Frankie Mariscal 2, Ricardo Huecias 1.
Mansfield-Dustin Whittig 16.
Rebounds: Pedro Huecias 5, Andy Rodriguez 5.
Steals: Andy Rodriguez 4.
Assists: Andy Rodriguez 3.