CONNELL - Winning for only the third time on the road this year, the Mabton Vikings made a statement last night with a 44-39 District tournament win over the Connell Eagles, the No. 2 team in the SCAC East division.
Free throws were the key in this game as Mabton made 81 percent (13-for-16) from the charity stripe, including going 10-for-12 in the fourth quarter.
"We played a fantastic game defensively, limiting two of the top three scorers in the SCAC East (Connell's Spencer Hadley and Brett Clyde) well below their season average," Mabton Coach Brock Ledgerwood said.
Mabton opened an 11-8 first quarter lead on the Eagles, eventually building up a seven-point lead in the second quarter.
"At that point we spread out the floor offensively, but failed to convert on a few lay-ups and Connell closed the gap to one at the half."
Leading 20-19 at halftime, Mabton's Enrique Huecias scored five straight points to start the second half, which stretched Mabton's lead back to seven points late in the third quarter.
Connell closed the gap at the end of the third quarter to tie the game at 31-all.
The Eagles managed to go ahead at the beginning of the fourth by one point but a three-point shot by Mabton's Tyler Herrera returned the lead to the Vikings, 34-32, and Mabton would not give up the lead again.
Mabton scored its last 10 points from the charity stripe in the last four and a half minutes of play.
"Free throws were key," Ledgerwood said. "We got to the line twice as many times as they did and knocked them down when they counted. Close games are won on the boards and at the free throw line and we came through tonight as a team in both areas."
Connell out rebounded the Vikings 26 to 23 but Ledgerwood was pleased with his team's efforts.
"They are the best rebounding team we've faced all year," he said of Connell.
Herrera led the Vikings with 11 points and seven rebounds. Juventino Morfin and Huecias each scored nine points for Mabton. Eric Tellez added eight points, five assists and five steals.
Hadley was held to eight points for the Eagles and Clyde was limited to seven points.
"Balanced scoring and tough defense are becoming our trademarks," Ledgerwood said. "We must keep that up as we make the tough run through the District tournament."
The win sets up another date for Mabton with Granger, a team they've lost to twice this season.
"Hopefully the third time's the charm for us against Granger," Ledgerwood said. "It will be another tough and intense battle. If we play like we did last night for 32 more minutes, we will have a great shot. We must show up with the intensity and team attitude that has gotten us here."
The district semi-finals against Granger will be played at Wahluke this Saturday, Feb. 17, at 5 p.m. The winner will go on to the District championship game and get a berth to the State tournament.
If Mabton falls against Granger, they will play the winner of Saturday's Zillah/Warden game next Thursday, Feb. 22, in Wahluke. The winner of that game will advance to State.