ZILLAH - The Mabton High School boys basketball team is back in familiar territory after beating the Riverview Panthers 62-55 in the District 5 semi-finals this past Friday in Zillah.
The win gives the Vikings an automatic berth to State and sets up a District final showdown with league SCAC West rival Granger next Friday at 7:30 p.m., at Zillah Middle School.
Mabton started last Friday's game slowly, getting just six points in the first quarter. Mabton Coach Brock Ledgerwood said his team struggled with the three-point shot against Riverview's 2-3 zone defense and allowed the Panther guards to penetrate Mabton's defenses.
Ledgerwood made some adjustments that paid off at the end of the quarter. The Vikings were able to get the ball inside to Josh Sanchez, who scored on two short jump shots.
"In the second quarter we picked up our intensity on the defensive end, which led to a few easy baskets and some open three-point shots," Ledgerwood said.
With the game tied at 10 early in the second Mabton's Derrick Nash hit a three-point shot from the right corner and followed that up with one from the left corner after Mabton forced a turnover.
Nash had a career game for the Vikings. He had a career-high 29 points in the effort, pulled down 10 rebounds and was 3-for-6 from behind the three-point arc. Nash also was 16-for-16 from the free throw line, including going 12-for-12 from the charity stripe in the fourth quarter.
The Vikings held a one-point lead heading into the second half, 27-26 and the game was played tightly for the remaining two quarters. Ledgerwood said he adjusted his offense in the second half to allow for penetration and cuts through Riverview's zone defense and scaled back on their jump shots.
The patience and teamwork paid off with a balanced scoring attack in the third. Six Mabton players scored, including Nash, who had seven points.
In the fourth quarter the Panthers battled back and erased Mabton's five-point lead to take a one-point lead in the period. Mabton's Carmen Johnson quickly erased that with two quick lay-ups to put Mabton back up to stay. Ledgerwood said the rest of the quarter was dominated by the Vikings' solid team defense and Nash's 12-for-12 effort at the free throw line.
"Derrick had a great game and as he has done so many times this year, he put us on his back and carried us by knocking down huge three-point shots and free throws," Ledgerwood said. "He was determined to have the ball in his hands when the game was on the line."
Ledgerwood also had praise for his defense.
Riverview's Contreras brothers, Victor and Juan, combined for 60 of the Panthers' 69 points in Riverview's first-round District win against Goldendale and the Vikings knew they would be tough to stop.
Mabton's Jesus Huecias held Victor Contreras (12.5 ppg average) scoreless and Juan Contreras was held to 16 points, his season average.
"Jesus Huecias did an outstanding job defensively not allowing Victor to get any good looks," Ledgerwood said. "He is an outstanding shooter and was contested by Jesus every time he had the ball.
"Tyler Herrera and Josh Sanchez combined to limit Juan Contreras," Ledgerwood added. "Juan reached his average in points, but our goal was to limit his touches and not give up a huge night to him. We knew Juan would score some points, but we wanted to make someone else beat us."
The Vikings were led by Nash, with 29 points. Kristian Carrasco added 10 points, had five steals and made three assists. Herrera had seven points and six rebounds for the Vikings. Carmen Johnson had six points and pulled down six rebounds. Sanchez added six points, Huecias had two points and six assists, and LeeTroy Rodriguez had two points for the Vikings.
The Panthers were led by Juan Contreras with 16 points and eight rebounds. Marcus Martin also had 16 points for Riverview and recorded four steals.
"I am proud of what this group of kids has accomplished," Ledgerwood said of his team. "They are a great group, get along so well and work hard every day in practice.
"They deserve this shot at the District Championship and our upcoming trip to the State tournament," he added.
Having clinched a State berth so early has taken a lot of pressure off the Vikings, which is allowing them to begin focusing and preparing for Granger next Friday.
"We have four days to focus and prepare for Granger and get over the hump," Ledgerwood said. "We have lost two close ones to Granger (by four points in overtime and by one point at the buzzer) and there is no reason for us to believe this game will be any different.
"It should be an exciting game and great experience for our kids. Granger is 21-0 and we are sure they want to stay undefeated. They will be well prepared and focused. We must bring our A-game if we hope to win it."