In a rematch of last season’s Round of 12, loser-out 2B State game, the No. 2 Morton-White Pass boys took home another win over No. 7 Northwest Christian (Colbert) Saturday afternoon at W.F. West in the opening round this year, 63-51.
Despite facing a somewhat familiar foe, the Timberwolves and Crusaders went blow-for-blow early on in the first half, adjusting to various schemes and wrinkles each team threw at the other.
Prepping mostly for a zone, the T-Wolves offense had a tough start, relying on the hot shooting of Jace Peters in the early going to keep them in the game, and trail by just two at the halftime break.
But once again — as has been the case in each of MWP’s most recent outings — the Timberwolves finally picked up steam in the third quarter.
Switching to a 1-3-1 zone permanently in the second half, if you were close enough to the MWP huddle, you could see Hunter Hazen’s eyes light up when coach Chad Cramer made the change.
“The 1-3-1’s better than Christmas morning for Hunter,” Cramer said with a laugh. “We feed off his energy and he’s getting deflections and steals and getting out in transition, all the things that make him Hunter Hazen.”
Hazen once again led a third quarter charge that saw star post Josh Salguero sit mostly on the bench in foul trouble. The senior Hazen scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half, and created too much havoc at the top of the zone for the Crusaders to overcome.
The Timberwolves doubled their points in the third quarter, alone, jumping from 22 to 44 points in the span of eight minutes.
“Third quarters have been a good thing for us,” Cramer said. “Sometimes it just takes a breather and just a tweak or two. We did that and regrouped and came back much stronger. We reestablished the post after losing it a bit in the first half.
“Rebounding was a passionate discussion point at half. They took it to us and put us on our heels, and we had to take the fight back to them and that’s what we did.”
Peters ended the game with 12 points, scoring eight in the first quarter to keep MWP in the mix after a slow start, and Jake Cournyer added 10, making some clutch baskets at the end.
Judah Kelly’s dagger 3-pointer with minutes remaining put the Timberwolves ahead by enough to empty the bench and lock in their spot in the 2B State Quarterfinals Thursday in Spokane against either No. 8 Adna or No. 9 Lind-Ritzville/Sprague/Washtucna.
As always, though he was in foul trouble for a majority of the second half, Salguero scored a game-high 20 points to go along with eight rebounds. Hazen also grabbed seven boards and Carter Dantinne and Kelly each grabbed another five in a more team-oriented rebounding effort than usual.
Taking a different path from last season’s run to the trophy round, which saw the Timberwolves fall in the regional round and have to play on Day 1 of the state tournament in 2022, MWP is going to enjoy Spokane and the arena in 2023.
“We’ll spend some time prepping for our next opponent and practice and we’re going to go over there and enjoy the first day,” Cramer said. “We’re definitely walking in as a team that can compete and we’re going to enjoy that. They’ve earned that right to enjoy that over there and feel good about not playing that first day.”