By Michael Carman
Peninsula Daily News
TACOMA — What a difference a year makes. Neah Bay, which lost its Class 1B regional boys basketball contest to Almira/Coulee-Hartline 79-72 in double overtime Saturday at Mount Tahoma High School, would have been eliminated from contention for a repeat state championship with the defeat.
The loss, one of those heartbreaking “both teams deserved to win,” contests, is the type that would have stung for a lifetime for the Red Devils.
But after a massive change in how state basketball tournaments are conducted, Neah Bay, the No. 1 team in the WIAA’s RPI, will still head to Spokane and will still have a shot at back-to-back state titles. Teams seeded 1-8 for the 16-team regional round all were guaranteed to advance to state.
“That’s the silver lining of this new RPI ranking system,” Red Devils head coach Ben Maxson said.
“We would’ve been done.”
But now, instead of getting a bye and a day off for Wednesday’s first round, Neah Bay (18-4) will get a rematch with No. 9 seed Taholah (22-2) in a loser-out state game at 9 p.m. Wednesday.
Saturday’s double-overtime affair at Mount Tahoma High School was a classic.
It had all the hallmarks: a tight back and forth first half as momentum swayed back-and-forth between the Warriors (22-2), the Red Devils and then back to ACH, who led 27-21 at halftime.
Neah Bay had a tough time stopping Warriors’ sophomore Maguire Isaak in the first half. Isaak scored 17 of his game-high 33 points before halftime.
But a switch to a 1-2-2 zone defense highlighted by rangy Rweha Munyagi at the top sparked a Red Devils resurgence.
Neah Bay posts Anthony Bitegeko and Cole Svec worked hard for second-chance buckets in that third quarter and the Red Devils led 43-40 after three quarters. Isaak was held to one point in that third period, but Gage Burchill warmed up from outside to can three 3s for the Warriors.
Neah Bay’s lead grew to 47-40 before ACH post Payton Nielsen went to work. He scored six inside in the latter stages of the fourth quarter, including the tying bucket with 1:14 to play and the game went to overtime tied at 53.
The Warriors took a quick lead in the first OT, but Svec was there for the Red Devils, scoring seven of Neah Bay’s last nine points in the extra frame as Neah Bay went up 66-62 with 20.8 seconds left.
Isaak answered immediately for ACH with a 3-point make. Svec then hit one of two at the free-throw line for a 67-65 lead with 8.9 seconds to play.
The Red Devils played stout defense, but the Warriors found Charles Hunt who swished the game-tying basket at the buzzer while falling backward and shooting off one foot.
Cameron Moore opened the second OT with a 3-pointer for Neah Bay, but Munyagi fouled out with 1:25 to go and the game tied at 72-all.
ACH took the lead for good when Hunt canned an open trey, the result of a missed defensive assignment out of the substitution.
“We weren’t focused right there when Rweha fouled out and Hunt got an open look,” Doherty said.
“We can’t play like that in Spokane and expect to win. We have to improve our communication, especially if we are playing in zone defense.
“But I’d rather have the loss happen here at regionals [instead of state]. We can work to win four games in four days and repeat as champions.”
Maxson praised his team’s ability to fight through and keep making plays during the game.
“There’s not another group like them in the state,” he said of a team that features players who have won three state football titles and a basketball championship in their high school careers.
And they live to fight for one more title, provided they can topple Taholah and win three more games.
Almira/Coulee-Hartline 79, Neah Bay 72, 2OT
Neah Bay 10 11 22 10 14 5 — 72
ACH 14 13 13 13 14 12 — 79
Neah Bay (72) — Svec 18, Munyagi 16, Moore 14, Doherty 13, A. Bitegeko 9, S. Bitegeko 2, P. Greene, Johnson.
ACH (79) — Isaak 33, Nielsen 20, Burchill 16, Hunt 8, Hahn 2.