MABTON - It's a new season in the SCAC West, as Mabton, a State tourney trophy winner a year ago, had to fight this past Saturday to hold off Cle Elum, which was winless last season.
The Vikes prevailed for a 58-52 victory at home Saturday to improve to 2-1 in league play and 3-6 overall.
It was anyone's game heading into the fourth quarter, as Cle Elum led 24-23 at the half and clung to a 38-35 advantage after three quarters.
"Cle Elum is much improved over its 0-20 season last year," said Mabton Coach Brock Ledgerwood. "Although they only have won one game this year, they have been getting better all year and their scores have been getting closer."
Using man-to-man defensive pressure, Mabton took control of the game in the final stanza with an 18-3 run to go up 53-41 with two minutes to play.
Kristian Carrasco, a freshman, sparked the Mabton rally by opening the fourth quarter with a three-point bucket off an out of bounds play, then stealing the ball on Cle Elum's next possession and sailing in for the lay-up.
Cle Elum wasn't quite done, though, canning a three-pointer and benefiting from four consecutive turnovers by Mabton.
Ledgerwood said the late ball-handling struggles came down to careless mistakes by his team.
"We must work on that killer instinct to put teams away when we get them down," Ledgerwood said. "Our point guard Juventino Morfin played limited minutes as he works his way back from an ankle injury. He will definitely help us take care of leads late in the game."
Morfin played four minutes in the fourth quarter, scoring six of his eight points to help Mabton surge to the lead. "It really helps us emotionally to have him in there," Ledgerwood said of Morfin. "He's a senior and a leader on this team."
J.T. Reynolds led Mabton with 17 points, including a 9-of-10 effort from the free throw line. He canned all six of his free throw attempts in the pivotal fourth quarter.
Other than Reynolds, the rest of the Vikings were 8-of-25 from the charity stripe. That's a percentage that has to get better, Ledgerwood said.
"We again struggled from the free throw line and that has to get better if we want to compete for a spot in the District playoffs," the coach said.
Mabton outrebounded the taller Warriors by a 37 to 34 advantage, led by seven caroms for Ricky Sanchez and six for Michael Conradt.
Saturday's win puts Mabton into a third-place tie with Zillah in the SCAC West. The Vikes travel to Naches tomorrow (Tuesday) for another league contest. "We have a tough road game," Ledgerwood said of taking on the Rangers. "Naches is big and will cause us some problems with their physical play."
Cle Elum 13 11 14 14 - 52
Mabton 12 11 13 22 - 58
FG-Cle Elum 19/51, Mabton 20/50. 3 PT-Cle Elum 4/15, Mabton 1/5. FT-Cle Elum 10/20, Mabton 17/35.
Cle Elum: C. Strom 14, T. Tate 10.
Mabton: J.T. Reynolds 17, R. Sanchez 11, K. Carrasco 10, J. Morfin 8, F. Smith 6, M. Conradt 4, Z. Peralez 2.