Tigers bolt out to fast start, race past Mountaineers


RAINIER — One test had been quite enough for the Napavine boys basketball team.

One week removed from getting pushed to the brink by Wahkiakum in Cathlamet — after multiple games were canceled by inclement weather — Rex Stanley’s Tigers finally got another to get back on the court, a ways from home, for another test against a team high up in the Central 2B League standings.

It didn’t take long for them to send a message, in what turned out to be an 89-45 rout of Rainier, that when Napavine’s right, the C2BL could well be the Tigers and everybody else

“I could tell — everybody could — the first two minutes, we were dialed in,” Stanley said. “That makes all the difference.”

Two minutes may be a bit of an exaggeration. It started to be clear when the Tigers won the opening tip, had the ball in the basket within 10 seconds, and forced so much havoc on the ensuing inbounds that Rainier coach Ben Sheaffer had to take a timeout before a Mountaineer had touched the ball in play for the first time.

Three minutes later, Sheaffer had to take another timeout; by that point, Napavine was up 13-0.

“That’s what we’ve been talking about since Wahkiakum, is coming out with the right approach and setting the tone early,” Stanley said. “I couldn’t have been happier with how we did that tonight.”

By the end of the first quarter, Napavine was up 24-11. Then, the Tigers started the second on  another big run, going up 40-15 after just 12 minutes of play.

A big part of that had to do with a red-hot shooting display that wasn’t limited to just James Grose. Sure, the Napavine star poured in 21 points in the first two quarters to go into halftime ahead of Rainier by himself, but as a team, the Tigers canned nine 3-pointers at a 53% clip.

“That’s the thing: We’ve got shooters,” Stanley said. “Jamie, of course, is Jamie. But we have other guys who can definitely hit shots, and we share the ball. This team has been together for basically three years; they like each other, they share the ball and it shows.”

Grose finished with 31 points, putting him two shy of 1,900 for his career. The senior, who came into the winter with the Napavine career scoring record already to his name, is well on pace to crack 2,000 by the end of the regular season. He also dished out four assists and had three steals to lead a defensive effort that forced 19 turnovers.

Karsen Denault added 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting —  including hitting both 3-pointers he attempted — and led the Tigers with seven rebounds. Jarin Prather drilled four triples and finished on 14 points.

Jimmy Meldrum led the Mountaineers (7-3, 4-2 C2BL) with 13 points, while Jared Sprouffske had nine and Peyton Sheaffer added eight. As a team, Rainier finished a rough 2 for 21 from beyond the arc.

“It is impossible to simulate Napavine's speed and the pressure that they put on you with their style of play,” Sheaffer said. “They are obviously really talented and shot the heck out of the ball, but defensively we didn't bring the same tenacity that we typically do.  We have a ton of things to tighten up moving forward and we use this lesson to help us improve down the stretch.”

The win kicks off a busy stretch run for the Tigers (13-0, 6-0 C2BL), who remain the final undefeated basketball team — boys or girls, at any level — in District 4. Napavine will wrap up its week with back-to-back matchups with Kalama and Winlock on Friday and Saturday, before gearing up for four games in eight days to end the season, three of which will be against teams in the top half of the league standings.

And then, there are the games that really matter.

“Bigger games are coming,” Stanley said. “The thing about basketball is that it’s a tournament sport. It’s all going to come down to that district tournament, and then hopefully Regionals and State, and that basically determines what kind of season you had. We’re just focused on getting better, because we know how it goes.”

Rainier will get its own busy stretch, facing Winlock on Friday and Morton-White Pass on Saturday, before going to Toutle Lake next Monday for a game that will be crucial to the Mountaineers’ hopes of pulling a high seed in the district tournament.