The Winlock boys basketball team is in a new, strange, unfamiliar place.
It’s got the target on its back. It’s the favorite entering just about every game on its schedule. Teams are coming after the Cardinals, giving them their best shot, trying to upset them, trying to play the spoiler.
At times, that’s noticeable. But at other times, it’s clear why Winlock is in that position.
Friday night, with the young but eminently talented Wahkiakum Mules in town, the Cardinals showed both, building a double-digit second-half lead, blowing it, then managing a 68-65 overtime win behind 17 points from Bryce Cline and 14 from both Coleson Richendollar and Noah Patching.
Jake Leitz and Brody Carlson each had 17 points for the Mules.
“This is the first time I’ve ever beat Wahkiakum twice,” Winlock coach Nick Bamer said. “It’s only five years. But that team’s a good team. And the way they shoot the ball, they are going to beat teams often.”
It would not have happened without Cline. And that isn’t hyperbole.
It wouldn’t have happened if the Cardinals’ best player took himself out of the game mentally after being tagged with three early fouls. It wouldn’t have happened if his three-point first half frustrated him to the point of worthlessness.
It wouldn’t have happened if he didn’t bank in a desperation 3 at the end of the shot clock in overtime that gave Winlock a 64-61 lead with 2:15 left that it never relented.
“I thought I overshot it,” Cline said. “But I saw it hit the bank and went in. I loved it.”
The wild 3-point attempt was impressive enough, but the best part of Cline’s performance was is management of his foul situation.
Winlock was at the wrong end of a large foul discrepancy. The Cardinals only shot bonus free throws in overtime, while the Mules enjoying at least the one-and-one bonus for seven minutes of the fourth quarter.
Richendollar was in a similar place and Noah Patching fouled out with five second-half fouls.
But Cline never really relented. He pulled off on defense, a bit, not taking chances and gambling like he likes to do so much.
But he didn’t like that lack of defensive aggressiveness affect the offensive side of the floor. Of his 17 points, 14 came in the second half.
Even through the constant double teams and the triangle-and-two defense, Cline made his presence known and felt, hitting that late 3 and three free throws to keep Wahkiakum at arm’s length.
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“The third quarter, Bryce took over for stretches like he does,” Bamer said. “The fourth quarter we need to make some free throws and limit some turnovers. But in our league, you take a win where you can get one.”
From Wahkiakum’s perspective, the loss wasn’t a bad one.
The team has one senior, with a smattering of juniors and some underclassmen. The latter can really play.
Winlock took an 11-point lead into the fourth quarter. Even with the big advantage, it wasn’t comfortable. Brody Carlson hadn’t come back out of the locker room after halftime but his threat was no less apparent.
Leitz was the most athletic player on the floor and was money from mid-range. Brody Avalon, a skilled and talented freshmen, was yet to score. That itself was a win. Winlock knew it wouldn’t last.
Wahkiakum never panicked. It had some experience in the situation.
About a week ago, the Mules went tit-for-tat with the loaded Toutle Ducks, only to find themselves down six in the fourth quarter and essentially give up. Toutle Lake pulled away for a 60-44 win in Cathlamet that was way more tense than the final score suggested.
So Wahkiakum went to work. The Mules worked the ball, finding good shots or drawing fouls.
Avalon got on the board finally in the fourth quarter with a three-point play to cut Winlock’s lead to four at 53-49, then later hit a 3, matching a Coleson Richendollar long-range jumper to keep the spread at four.
“When he got that steal and got to the free throw line, I was confident that he’d saw the ball go in and I knew he was gonna knock one down,” Mules coach Todd Souvenir said. “He’s a kid that hits me up every morning at 6:30 and brings me to the gym and gets a couple 1,000 shots up a week on our gun. He works for that moment.”
After Noah Patching missed a pair of free throws with Winlock holding a three-point lead with 14 seconds left, Wahkiakum got it up the floor quickly and found Avalon in the corner right in front of his bench. He buried it, forcing overtime, capping a 21-10 quarter.
“We really clamped down on defense,” Leitz said. “It was probably the best defense we’ve played all year.”
Winlock (10-2, 4-0) meets Naselle at the MLK Tournament on Monday. Wahkiakum (9-6, 2-3) hosts Adna on Wednesday at 7 p.m.
Winlock 68, Wahkiakum 65 (OT)
WAHKIAKUM — Jake Leitz 17, Brody Carlson 17, Logan LaBerge 11, Brody Avalon 9, KC Beery 9, Ashden Niemeyer 2, Kyler Sause.
WINLOCK — Bryce Cline 17, Noah Patching 14, Nolan Swofford 14, Coleson Richendollar 12, Landon Tiemens 6, Joe Welch 3, Garrett Chiechlowski, Nathan Suhrbier, Jonathan Gonzalez.