YAKIMA You can’t help but look ahead to next year if you’re a Zillah boys basketball fan.
All five starters on a team that finished 3rd at the 1A state tournament at the Yakima Valley Sun Dome last weekend will return.
Zillah took 3rd place by defeating Northwest School House of Seattle, 76-73 with a crushing 31-15 third quarter comeback. It was the second post-season win over Northwest, with Zillah taking a 69-51 rout at regionals a week earlier.
It was a battle this time. Learning from Freeman’s 76-67 victory over Zillah in the semifinals, Northwest used it’s height advantage better this time and led 38-32 at halftime.
The Freeman-Zillah semifinal game on Friday, March 2, was a case of very good tall team getting past a very good small team.
And it must have been a hot night for Freeman. It laid an egg the next night, dropping the title game, 82-45, to Lynden Christian.
Zillah had two players at 6-3. Freeman matched that with 6-6, 6-5, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 and 6-3.
All of Freeman’s scoring came from five of those boys. Zillah got only 4 close-in points each from Sebastian Godoma and Westin Ide.
On the other hand, Zillah’s three outside shooters poured in 59 points, including 21 from 3-point land.
But it was an off night for normally hot shooting guard Antonio Salinas, who missed 10 3-pointers.
Cesar Diaz was the leading scorer for Zillah with 21 points. Brock Ellis scored 20, and Salinas had 18. Ellis went 3-8 from 3-point range.
Zillah coach Mario Mengarelli was disappointed with the loss, but he said the better team that night won.
The game for third place started slowly for the Leopards. Northwest scored first and built a 9-2 lead. Salinas, who scored the first two Zillah points, then ran off five in a row to make it 9-7.
Northwest forged ahead, and so did Salinas. The first quarter ended 16-16 with Salinas scoring 12.
Salinas got 12 more points, on four 3-pointers, in the second period as Northwest took a 38-32 halftime lead.
After the shelling by Salinas, Northwest adjusted to him in the third quarter. But the inside opened up for the Leopards.
Sebastian Godina heated up with 3 early baskets and scored 9 points in the frame. The 6-3 forward put Zillah ahead for good, 52-51, with a jump shot and a free throw. In the same period, Diaz scored 5 points, Ellis got 4 and Ide added 2.
“We finally got the ball inside,” Mengarelli said.
Salinas hit two 3-pointers to make the score 60-53, and Diaz capped the run with a 3-pointer for Zillah’s largest lead to that point, 63-53 after three periods.
It was hang-on time for Zillah, and the Leopards almost did not. Payton Whitaker hit a 3-point shot to make the score 66-53 with seven minutes left in the game, but Northwest didn’t quit. It came all the way back to lead, 73-72, with 1:52 remaining.
Zillah regained the lead with a Diaz lay-in with 1:38 left. Salinas secured the win with two pressure-packed free throws with two seconds left.
It was the perfect way for a great small team to finish the season — an exciting final game and lots of promise for the next year.
Godina finished the game with 17 points, Diaz had 7, Ellis 6, Ide 4 and Whitaker 3.
Salinas dazzled the tournament audience with an array of amazing basketball skills. He was all over the court offensively and defensively, making steals and assists, and taking down an occasional rebound.
Salinas totaled 39 points in the 3rd-place game and scored 86 over the three games Zillah played.