Blazers men fend off Thunderbirds’ rally
Centralia College men watched a 20-point lead whittle down to two with five minutes remaining, then put the clamps on Highline down the stretch for an 82-72 Northwest Athletic Conference win here Saturday.
Blazers’ 6-foot-6 freshman center Kobe Matsen pumped in a game-high 25 points and 10 rebounds on 12 of 15 shooting, including a crowd-pleasing one-handed jam in the second quarter that brought a youth basketball team from Rochester in attendance to their feet.
Five Blazers posted double-digit scoring on a night where the Centralia was blazing hot from the field, shooting 50 percent with an array of buckets in the paint.
“We can’t complain with 50 percent from the floor,” Centralia coach Jason Moir said.
L’Marcus Walker dropped 18 points, Taylor Peppinger added 13 and Tyler Ashmore and Jerry Boston contributed 11 each. Ashmore had a team-high six assists, while Walker grabbed seven boards.
The Blazers struck early, leading by as many as 20 in the first half to take a comfortable 45-29 lead going into the break. But Highline wasn’t going away.
The Thunderbirds began attacking the rim with deep penetration, which led to some easy 3s and helped them climb back in it, pulling within two at 67-65 with five minutes to go. It didn’t help that the Blazers were also surrendering offensive boards to the Thunderbirds.
Moir called timeout and asked his team to tighten up their defense and work harder, stressing communication and switching a little bit earlier.
It worked, the Blazers quickly built an eight point lead over the next two minutes on drives to the hoop and working the ball inside. And their defense turned stingy on the other end of the floor.
“When we’re in the gaps and playing active with our hands, moving our feet, keeping guys in front of us, we can be pretty good,” Moir said. “That’s what got us the lead in the first place.”
With a young team consisting of just four sophomores — with five freshman on the floor at times — the Blazers’ inexperience showed through stretches.
“We’ve been struggling in the second half of a lot of our games, so we just have to figure out how we can put together 40 minutes,” Moir said.
Centralia (8-10, 3-1) travels to Grays Harbor on Wednesday for an 8 p.m. match.
“There’s still a lot of league to go, so we just have to continue to stay focused and get better each and every day,” Moir said. “We’ll give them a day off and then be ready to go on Monday.”
Blazers women blow out Thunderbirds
While the boys game went down to the final minutes, the girls match was over nearly as soon as it started.
Centralia raced out to a 20-0 lead on Highline —their best start of the year — and never looked back en route to a 87-54 hammering here on Friday.
“Our girls were fired up,” Centralia coach Caleb Sells said. “They didn’t want to have a let down, which is easy to do.”
The Blazers’ offensive firepower was on full display, with Centralia shooting 50.7 percent from the field and leading by as many as 47 with 2:55 left in the third quarter, fueled by four players in double-digit scoring.
Caitlin Yenne led the way, knocking in a game-high 28 points, including 20 alone in the first half before Blazers’ coach Caleb Sells took his foot off the gas with the game well in hand.
In their best start to a game this year, Centralia used a full-court press to stymie the Thunderbirds, forcing quick turnovers that led to easy buckets. The Blazers forced 29 turnovers in all, including 17 steals. Yenne led with a game-high six steals, while Selena Cudney swiped four of her own.
Centralia ran its win streak to four games with the win, due mainly to fiery starts just like this one, Sells said.
“Our last three or four games we’ve come out really hot out of the gates,” Sells said. “I don’t think I’ve had a team execute six or seven plays in a row perfectly.”
The transition game is where the speedy Blazers excelled. With no players taller than 5-foot-10, they were forced to play a high-wire match with a Highline squad that features three players 5-foot-10 or taller, including a 6-foot-1 post.
“We really have to rely on our speed and run bigger teams like this one,” Sells said.
Centralia improved to 4-0 in league and looked much better than its 11-7 overall record, which isn’t indicative of the team’s true talent.
The Blazers went through a brutal nonleague gauntlet to start the season, with five of their seven losses coming to top-10 teams in the NWAC. Two alone were to top-ranked and undefeated Umpqua.
“That made us stronger, made us go back and watch some film and identify where we need to get better,” Sells said. “Winning by 40, it’s easy to feel good about yourself, but it doesn’t identify what you need to get better at.”
Centralia travels to Grays Harbor on Wednesday to take on the Chokers at 6 p.m.