VANCOUVER — Mark Morris boys’ basketball coach Bill Bakamus likened the Monarchs’ game Saturday against Columbia River to Sonny Liston’s 1965 fight against Muhammad Ali.
The Chieftains beat MM 56-41 in Vancouver on Saturday evening, which puts River in the Greater St. Helens 2A League driver seat, while the Monarchs regroup and focus on what’s ahead.
The game was anything but ordinary, with only 27 total points scored in the first half before River pulled ahead early in the third frame to secure the win.
“They obviously administered a pretty heavy knockout punch,” Bakamus said.
Neither team could find a rhythm early, with two minutes going by before the first shot fell and both teams taking the shot clock all the way down.
MM led 8-7 after the first quarter, but trailed 16-11 at halftime. River started the third quarter with a 6-0 run, and though MM began finding its groove, everything the Monarchs managed was matched by Chieftain senior Jacob Hjort.
“You don’t really want to trade baskets,” MM forward Garrett Berger said. “We need to get stops to win. It was score, score, score, make a stop. That was what did us in.”
River outscored MM 19-12 in the third quarter to open a 12-point lead heading into the final frame.
“They’re good,” Bakamus said. “As the league goes, I think everyone knew going into this year that they were the team to beat. When you come down here, they prove that.”
MM had its best shooting of the night in the fourth quarter, scoring 18 points, but that’s also when the Chieftains found their shot.
With five minutes left, Tyler Berger hit a 3 from the right elbow, but a few passes flowed on the other end and River guard Evan Dirksen sunk a triple from the corner.
Garrett Berger worked through defenders into the lane and scored, but then Hjort sunk a 3 from the top of the arc.
Nothing the Monarchs did went unanswered.
“We just need to work on getting other guys involved,” Tyler Berger said. “Not be so one-dimensional.”
Tyler Berger scored 12 points on the night, and Garrett Berger scored 17, including 4 of 5 free throws. Hjort led River with 19 points, and Dirksen scored 10 with a trio of 3s.
The two squads meet again on Jan. 25, but first Mark Morris (2-1 in league, 6-5 overall) will host Washougal on Monday.
Monday is the game Bakamus says he’s focused on, though he acknowledged River just became the team to beat.
“I’m more of a guy that lives day to day, I think our program is day to day,” Bakumus said. “There’s no pressure. All I want to do is be playing our best basketball in the playoffs. That’s always the goal.”