MABTON - The Mabton Viking boys basketball team saw its hopes of an SCAC West crown vanish last night in a 56-54 home loss to Naches in two overtimes.
The two teams were tied for first place at 9-2 in league play heading into Thursday night's regular season finale.
The Rangers' edge in the game came down to role players unexpectedly rising to the top and making the difference.
Brandon Gillespie is only the fourth biggest threat for Naches, yet he tallied 26 points last night. "He's not the guy we'd typically focus on," said Mabton Coach Brock Ledgerwood. "He was aggressive."
Gillespie's tally included a three-pointer in the final minute of regulation to send the game into overtime.
Another minor role player for Naches, reserve Ethan Flory, came off the bench in the last seconds of the second overtime to hit the game-winning bucket. Flory scored on a left-handed shot in the lane that rolled around the rim and finally found the net with one second to play.
The evening started out promising for Mabton on its senior night, having beaten the Rangers on the road earlier in the season and shooting out to a 21-12 lead after one quarter last night.
"We shot the ball really well," Ledgerwood said. The early spark was led by Kristian Carrasco, who scored 10 of his team-high 21 points in the first quarter, and Frankie Smith, who combined for three three-point buckets in the opening stanza.
"The three-pointers helped us attack their zone a little bit," said Ledgerwood.
The Rangers adjusted and, in a sign of things to come, whittled Mabton's lead to seven, 29-22, at the half.
"They stayed pretty close, they switched to a little man-to-man (defense) from a zone," Ledgerwood said. "We weren't quite as hot as we were in the first quarter."
Smith and Carrasco again helped Mabton find its groove early in the third quarter, each hitting three-pointers to stake the Vikings to a 13-point lead, their biggest on the night.
The Rangers responded by calling a timeout.
"They calmed themselves down and started chipping away," said Ledgerwood. "They were a little more patient on offense and picked up their intensity on defense."
Naches trimmed Mabton's lead back down to seven by the end of the third quarter, and sustained the momentum into the fourth quarter.
"They scored the first basket (in the fourth quarter) and our lead stayed around three to five points most of the way," Ledgerwood said.
The Mabton lead was at three when Gillespie nailed the game-tying three-pointer.
The Vikings did have one final chance to win the game in regulation, but failed to connect on a wide-open attempt from three-point land.
The Vikings also hurt their chances by missing on 10 free throw attempts in the second half.
In the first overtime it was a stand-off between Mabton's quickness and Naches' height advantage.
Both teams held the ball for about a minute on each possession, and both squads scored four points in the extra session. The Vikes had a chance to win it, holding the ball for the final 30 seconds before missing a potential game-winning bucket. "We had a pretty decent shot and it didn't go in."
It was almost the exact same scenario in the second overtime, with both teams having again scored four points and Mabton stalling for the final shot with about 40 seconds left.
Only this time Mabton would never get the shot off.
"We were being patient trying to get a last shot," Ledgerwood said. "It had the feel of a playoff game. Whoever had the ball last would be the team that won it."
The Viking strategy misfired, though.
"We were trying to spread the court to use our quickness and turned the ball over trying to go to the hoop," said Ledgerwood.
That gave the ball back to Naches and made a hero out of reserve Ethan Flory.
Ledgerwood said Mabton did all it could to stop the heartbreaking bucket.
"We had two guys hanging on him, we had it covered but the ball bounced around the rim before it fell in."
The loss spoiled not only senior night and the dream of an SCAC West crown for the Vikes, it also overshadowed an heroic effort by Mabton's J.T. Reynolds, who scored 14 points and hauled down 14 rebounds.
"J.T. had a good night all the way through on both sides of the floor," Ledgerwood said. "He played a ton of minutes and played really well for us."
Carrasco recorded five steals to go with his 21 points.
On a night when role players ruled for Naches, the Rangers' leading scorer this season, 6-4 Adam Ranger, tallied just nine points to go with seven rebounds.
Despite the loss, Mabton (9-3, 16-4) claims the SCAC West's second seed and will host SCAC East third seed Columbia-Burbank at 7 p.m. next Thursday in a first-round District play-off game.
"The good thing is we have plenty of time before we play again," Ledgerwood said of helping his team overcome the emotional loss.
Though Mabton fell short of the SCAC West crown, Ledgerwood said there's a larger prize the Vikes have in sight.
"Our biggest goal is a state trophy," the coach said.
And Mabton is still in good shape to make the big dance, hosting a first-round opponent they beat earlier in the season. A win next Thursday means the Vikes would have to win just one of their next two District playoff games to advance to the State 1A tourney next month at the SunDome.
"We're still in a great position, we have a good shot at it," Ledgerwood said.