BENTON CITY - When one door closes another opens.
Last Saturday the Mabton High School boys basketball team found a backdoor into the SCAC District tourney by knocking off Ki-Be, the east's fourth seed, 64-46.
The Vikes were the west's fifth seed after losing their last three regular season games, and needed a win over Ki-Be to grab the No. 4 seed into Districts this coming Tuesday against top-seeded White Swan.
Mabton took control of the loser-out contest early, posting a 25-13 lead at the half thanks to a defense that forced the host Bears into 11 first quarter turnovers. In one stretch, Ki-Be had miscues on five consecutive possessions.
"I was extremely pleased with our intensity on defense all night, especially in the first half," said Mabton Coach Brock Ledgerwood.
The coach also praised the turnout of Viking fans. "The support from our students and community was awesome," he said. "We had at least double the amount of people than the home team and our crowd was five times louder than Ki-Be's home crowd. Positive support from our community goes a long way toward helping our boys succeed on the court."
Mabton opened the second half with a lay-up by Juventino Morfin and a three-point bucket from Tyler Herrera to quickly go up 30-13. Ki-Be found an answer in the person of Hector Quinones, who scored 13 of his 17 points in the second half.
Quinones' hot hand combined with a relaxed Mabton defense helped Ki-Be stay in contention. The Bears cut the deficit back down to 12 after three quarters, 42-30, and actually got as close as nine points early in the fourth. "We struggled to keep up our intensity on defense and on the boards on every possession," Ledgerwood said of the Vikes' struggle in putting away Ki-Be.
Mabton kept its cool, though, and iced the game the rest of the way by spreading the floor and scoring on backdoor layups or canning free throws.
The Vikes hit nearly 70 percent from the charity stripe for the game and shot nearly 60 percent from the floor to keep the Bears at bay. Ledgerwood attributed the shooting accuracy to "the fact that we played together and shared the ball with 14 assists."
Ki-Be, on the other hand, connected on just 30 percent of its free throw attempts and shot just 37 percent from the field.
Mabton's defense had something to do with that.
"We communicated and worked together defensively for most of the night," Ledgerwood observed. "This truly was a team win for us."
Herrera paced Mabton with a game-high 19 points, 13 in the second half, to go with five steals and four assists. Teammate J.T. Reynolds scored 15 points and collected eight rebounds. The Vikes also had a third scorer in double figures, Kristian Carrasco, with 13 points.
The win improves Mabton, which finished league play with a 7-7 mark, to 9-12 overall on the season and sets up a possible hat trick at White Swan at 7 p.m. tomorrow. The Vikings handed the SCAC West champs their only two league losses of the season and will hope to make it three over the Cougars.
Meanwhile, Ledgerwood and company are still mulling the open door that got them into the District dance. "We stole the number four seed from the SCAC East and qualified for the District tournament," the coach said.