NAPAVINE — There was no doubt Wednesday night’s boys basketball contest between 2B No. 8 Napavine and No. 3 Morton-White Pass would come down to the wire. With the game tied at 59-59 and just 6.8 seconds left on the clock, there was no doubt who would take the final shot for the Tigers in a pivotal Central 2B matchup in Napavine.
Tiger guard James Grose took off to the baseline and caught a perfect short pass from Jarin Prather, and turned toward the hoop after getting some separation from his initial defender. When the help came, Grose had no doubts about the shot he had to take, fading away from the corner of the basket just a step away from the baseline.
The junior quickly rose up, and sunk the go-ahead shot with just 2.8 ticks left on the clock, and though MWP got one last look at it, the Tigers would hold on to defeat the previously unbeaten in league Timberwolves, 61-59, Wednesday night.
Though both coaches knew the shot would fall, perhaps the only doubt of the night came from Grose, himself, who said Wednesday night’s final shot was the first game-winner of his career.
“There was doubt, I’ll be honest,” Grose said. “I was fading away on the corner of the backboard, so it was an awkward shot, but it felt good. My heart was racing. I knew I could hit that shot, I’ve practiced it a million times. But it was a lot of pressure, definitely.”
To anyone else watching, the typically cool and collected Napavine scorer didn’t look like he had a single doubt in his mind, en route to a 25-point performance on an efficient 10 of 13 shooting from the field.
“When you need two points, who are you going to go to?” Napavine coach Rex Stanley said. “James has shot thousands of those shots. Literally. Not only did we want him to take it, he wanted to take it. That’s the more important thing.”
Grose’s game-clincher came at the tailend of a massive run that gave the Tigers a late lead after trailing by seven at the halftime break.
Napavine roared out to an early lead in the first quarter, thanks to some aggressive early play from Karsen Denault, but scored just eight points in the second quarter, and had a hard time keeping up with MWP’s Josh Salguero.
In the third quarter, the Tigers chipped and chipped away at the T-Wolves lead, after Salguero picked up his fourth foul on a reach-in call two minutes into the frame.
The Tigers proceeded to attack the baseline, early in the shot clock and often, as Denault scored 12 points in the second half to finish with 22 points and eight rebounds on 10 of 15 shooting from the floor. Grose hit three shots from distance, but did most of his damage on drives and pull-up shots in space.
“Foul trouble is part of it,” MWP coach Chad Cramer said. “We have to learn to battle through it. We battled through it tonight, but we came up just short. Josh had to sit a little longer than we’d hope, obviously. They went on a run when he was on the bench, but that’s part of the game.”
Trimming the deficit to just one entering the third quarter, the Tigers finally built up more than a single-score lead with 1:42 left, clinging to a 59-55 advantage.
Enter Salguero — who had 23 points in just 22 minutes — who attacked the boards for putbacks to tie the game with less than 20 seconds to go at 59-59.
Anticipating a high-ball screen, the Timberwolves defended Grose about as well as they had hoped for, but still watched the ball fall through the net.
“They changed it up and shot it right over the top of two of us,” Cramer said. “We knew it was coming to James. We wanted to double him, and we did, and he just made the shot. I knew it was going in, and I’m sure he did too.”
The win puts the Tigers into the driver’s seat of the Central 2B league title race, with a head-to-head victory against the Timberwolves and just one loss so far in league. If Napavine wins out, they would earn a first-round bye in the district tournament and the top overall seed. The Tigers take on Kalama on Friday in another league matchup.
The Timberwolves, meanwhile, also control their own destiny for a top-two seed at districts, despite the loss. If MWP wins out, it would earn the second seed and a first-round bye as well, assuming the Tigers win out. The T-Wolves have another tough test against Toutle Lake coming up on Friday in Morton.
“I don’t know how many overtimes we’ve had in the last couple of years, but it’s been a lot,” Cramer said. “It’s always going to come down to the last shot. We’ve been fortunate to be on the other end of those, but tonight James got a good look. That’s basketball. I’m sure we’ll see them down the road.”