Despite 16 percent field goal shooting in the first quarter, the Mabton Vikings used strong defense to come away with a win over Granger in the District semi-finals Saturday night.
The Spartans defeated Mabton twice in the regular season. The win over Granger assures Mabton a berth in the State tournament.
"We got off to a terrible start due to poor shooting and costly turnovers," Mabton Coach Brock Ledgerwood said of his team's 44-35 victory. "We were able to get good shots but just couldn't put them in."
Down 11-0, Mabton's Ernie Sanchez gave the Vikings a spark when he scored with 1:32 left in the first quarter. A minute later he hit another basket as Mabton closed to 11-4.
"Ernie Sanchez did an outstanding job in the first quarter," Ledgerwood said. "We were settling for too many jump shots that were not falling, but Ernie took the ball to the basket to get us on the board."
Mabton ran a diamond and one defense which enabled them to shut down Granger's leading scorer, Mario Mengarelli. In the two earlier match-ups between these teams Mengarelli scored 33 and 18 points, respectively. On Saturday he was held to just eight points.
Ledgerwood praised the efforts of Mabton's Enrique Huecias for his role in shutting Mengarelli down.
"We came out a bit fired up in the second quarter with some help from Frankie Smith," Ledgerwood said. "Frankie came off the bench and hit two three's in the first two minutes of the quarter to get us back into the game. We held them scoreless the first five minutes of the second quarter and added our own 10 points during that time."
The spurt gave Mabton a 20-19 lead going into halftime.
"We came out quick again in the third quarter with a quick put back by Huecias and a three-point basket by Juventino Morfin," Ledgerwood explained. "We held a three to five point lead the rest of the third quarter."
Mabton was down 30-27 early in the fourth quarter when the Viking defense took two charges, which led to two quick baskets that put Mabton back up 31-30. The Vikings then took control of game with good ball control and hitting its free throws down the stretch.
"I am extremely pleased with our effort defensively," Ledgerwood said. "We have held three of our last four opponents under 40 points and that has been the spark that has got us into the District championship game and berth into the State A tournament."
Mabton was led by Huecias with 10 points, all in the second half. Smith scored eight points for the Vikings and Morfin added seven points and Tyler Herrera had six points, 10 rebounds and four assists.
The win sets up a showdown with Riverview Saturday, Feb. 24, at 5 p.m. in Wahluke, for the SCAC District title.
"Riverview will be another extremely tough test for our defense," Ledgerwood said. "They have a very solid post player and three or four guards who can penetrate and light it up from outside. We must continue our defensive efforts and take care of the basketball offensively if we want to cut down the nets and bring a District championship banner to Mabton."