It only took 20 games, but the Kalama Chinooks finally played a complete basketball game.
Jackson Esary scored 18 points with 6 rebounds, 5 blocks and 8 steals and Jack Doerty added another 18 points and Kalama beat Napavine 80-68 in Toutle on Saturday night, securing a spot in the 2B District 4 tournament proper and will travel to Ocosta on Tuesday as the No. 8 seed.
“Absolutely best all-around game,” Kalama coach Wes Armstrong said. “It got a little sloppy there in the late third, fourth quarter because we haven’t been there that much this year. But we knocked down free throws, which we haven’t done all year. And we played with a lot of intensity. We knew that they had played three nights in a row and we applied pressure, so that had something to do with it.”
Kalama’s season has been a rough one.
The football season lasted so long the Chinooks had to play games without some of their best players — Esary, Doerty, Max Cox, Bradey O’Neil and Ryan Cooney, etc.
It left a sense of urgency the Chinooks struggled through. They pressed. They perhaps tried too hard in an attempt to make up for lost time.
Then Esary suffered a sprained ankle, further sending Kalama into the depths of struggles and frustration. But things started to look up. Kalama won some games, including one over those same Napavine Tigers, and earned a spot in the pigtail round with a chance to continue playing.
The Chinooks made good on the opportunity, using an aggressive defense that mixed between a press and a zone to wear out the Tigers, who were playing their third game in three days, with an offense that finally was calm and crisp and constantly dangerous.
“We calmed down a lot compared to other games,” Doerty said. “We played great.”
The Kalama offense had struggled with turnovers, but for the first 16 minutes there were no such struggles.
Kalama had just five giveaways in the first half which led to 36 points, 21 of which came in the initial period.
On Kalama’s first offensive possession, against a Napavine defense employing a box-and-one against Esary, Tommy Brandenburg came open at the free throw line and drilled the 15-footer. From there, Armstrong knew the Kalama offense would be in for a good night.
“The guys executed the gameplan,” Armstrong said.
The Chinooks hit 3s. They worked it around and found good shots. They got bench scoring, too. Max Cox added 15 points, Brandenburg had 14 and Bradey O’Neil had 10.
The offense started to stumble some in the second half, though. The turnover problems resurfaced (11 in the second half), and Kalama kept pushing the pace even while up double digits. It’s something Kalama has gotten used to this season as they were often trailing late in games and had to find points quickly.
Leading 71-63 with 1:17 to go, Armstrong took a full timeout to tell his team to slow down, that they need to work the clock, that quick shots were a detriment.
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Kalama got the message.
“We showed some composure,” Armstrong said. “And we were able to knock down some free throws and get some big buckets.”
As good as the offense looked, it was the defense that was the key.
Napavine is really big inside, in a way that Kalama can’t really match up with. Evander is strong and relentless and Keith Olson (13 points, 14 points) is a huge body with good footwork.
Kalama’s press gave the Napavine guards — Laythan Demarest, Gavin Parker Cael Stanley and James Grose — problems all night.
Napavine finished with 24 turnovers. Five Chinooks had steals, led by Esary’s 8. Of those 8 six came in the press. Esary would run to the ball and jump with his hands up as a Tiger tried an overhead pass to the middle. But the Kalama sophomore would catch them and either take it himself or find a teammate for layup.
“We just wanted to force the tempo to our liking,” Armstrong said. “Napavine’s the kind of team that comes down and runs their stuff. The kids followed our gameplan.”
After the first quarter, which ended with Kalama up 21-11, Napavine only came within six points once — when an Evander bucket cut the Kalama lead to 51-46 early in the fourth.
But Kalama used a 10-2 run to snatch back control. Napavine got within 8 at 71-63 when Evander had another bucket with 1:17 left, prompting Armstrong to take his timeout and remind give his reminder.
And so, Kalama is officially in the bracket, which is the most important thing. All you have to do is get in it, and anything can happen.
“We’re gonna do very good in the bracket, I’m sure,” Doerty said.
No. 5 Ocosta hosts the Chinooks on Tuesday at 7 p.m.
Kalama 80, Napavine 68
NAPAVINE — Cade Evander 18, Keith Olson 13, Gavin Parker 10, Caleb Perz-Stewart 7, Laythan Demarest 6, Cael Stanley 6, James Grose.
KALAMA — Jackson Esary 18, Jack Doerty 18, Max Cox 15, Tommy Brandenburg 14, Bradey O’Neil 10, Preston Armstrong 4, Dylan Mills 2, Ryan Cooney.