It isn’t much of a stretch to say that Wahkiakum’s presence in the boys regional round came as a surprise to some observers. The Mules are even more convinced that those doubters have been wrong-headed all along, and it’s a point they won’t budge on.
On the back of a 24-points and 17-rebound outburst from Jake Leitz on Saturday here at Mark Morris the Mules were able to beat Kittitas/Thorp 58-43 to clinch a spot in the 2B boys Hardwood Classic after finishing sixth in the 2B Central League.
“It’s a dream of a lifetime,” Wahkiakum coach Todd Souvenir said.
Leitz was already talking about proving people wrong as the Wahkiakum girls warmed up for their Regional game — The Mules didn’t like where they were picked to finish in the league. The Mules felt disrespected and overlooked.
Saturday, they did something about it.
“It’s crazy,” Leitz said. “It feels like everyone’s been doubting us. TDN had us eighth in league. It just feels like every time we prove someone wrong.”
The Mules had to work really hard to reach the Regional proving ground.
There was a wild contest with Ilwaco in districts, followed by a relatively easy win over Ocosta, then an upset of Winlock, which needed overtime to beat Wahkiakum on its home floor a month ago.
Wahkiakum didn’t lead that game until the final minute, knocking off the Cardinals before falling to Onalaska for fourth place.
That hard worn path set up Saturday’s meeting with Kittitas, which featured a pair of really good guards that are dangerous both in terms of driving and shooting. They also had a penchant for getting rim protectors in foul trouble.
Leitz, Wahkiakum’s chief rim defender, picked up a couple quick fouls in the first quarter, but he’d already made his mark by then, grabbing 11 rebounds with six points to boot.
The Mules never really let the dynamic pair of Coyotes get going.
Senior guard Justin Hudson had a difficult shooting evening, scoring just 11 points. Sophomore guard Blake Catlin had 11 points for Kittitas, but most of those came in the fourth quarter as the Coyotes mounted a desperate comeback attempt to save their season.
That dash fell short, as Wahkiakum was smart down the stretch, passing up easy shots to run the clock out. Souvenir would’ve liked to see more made free throws, but the Mules did enough for one night and have now achieved access to their season-long goal: Spokane.
“I thought we did a great job of closing the game out,” Souvenir said. “We didn’t do a great job of finishing it. We missed some free throws down the stretch, but those are pressure situations. These guys haven’t been in those situations since, well, forever. It’s pretty cool.”
Wahkiakum built a comfortable advantage, leading by 10 at halftime at 28-18, then extended it to 14 by the middle of the fourth quarter. Even at their hottest, the Tigers would never again get closer than eight points.
So what now? What’s left for Wahkiakum to do?
Well, it’s simple.
“Win,” Leitz said.
The Mules will play Lake Roosevelt on Wednesday at 3:45 p.m. in a loser out contest.
Wahkiakum 58, Kittias/Thorp 43
KITTITAS — Justin Hudson 11, Blake Catlin 11, Josh Rosback 8, Jaymeson Walters 8, Dawson Byers 5, Cody Vandorn, Conner Coles, Shane Jenks.
WAHKIAKUM — Jake Leitz 24, Logan LaBerge 115, Brodie Avalon 7, Ashden Niemeyer 5, KC Beery 4, Brody Carlson 3, Beau Rose, Levi Hauff, Titan Neimala, Kyler Sause.
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