Walla Walla went more than three minutes without scoring to open Wednesday’s Northwest Athletic Conference East Region men’s basketball game against Yakima in the Dietrich Dome.
The Warriors, however, rallied behind Caulin Bakalarski’s 13 first-half points and a 14-4 run to close out the first half for a 34-28 lead at the break, and they answered every Yakima challenge over the final 20 minutes en route to a 77-65 victory.
“We were out of sync offensively the whole (first half),” Warriors coach Jeff Reinland said. “When you get wide open shots and you don’t make them, guys start second-guessing themselves. We played sloppy and tired. I’m just glad we got the win. I don’t know how we did it.”
The Warriors built the lead to 44-35 following Gabe Porter’s second consecutive trey with less than 16 minutes to play in the second half. The Yaks wouldn’t go away as they narrowed the gap to 48-45 with 10:33 left.
The Warriors answered behind a Landon Radliff assist to Beau Tilleman and a Radliff coast-to-coast finish off a steal and the Warrior lead jumped back to 52-45. Brandon Porter found Gabe Porter for a triple at the 6:30 mark and the lead swelled to 58-49.
But back came the Yaks to get within 58-54 before Porter connected on his sixth trey of the night to give the Warriors some space at 61-54 with 5:20 left. However, a triple from Jalil Walker and a deuce from Jason Ford quickly got the Yaks within 61-59 with 3:40 left.
The Warriors were up to the challenge. Dalton Thompson hit two free throws, the Warrior defense forced four Yak turnovers over their next five possessions, Radliff delivered a trey and the Warriors lead swelled to 66-59 with 1:21 to play.
“It got a little hairy there when they cut it to two,” Reinland said. “They had a couple of possessions, but our zone slowed them down.
“I was concerned about Landon. I wasn’t going to put him back in the game (because) he was turning the ball over against their press. But I thought, we better get him back in and he hits a big 3.”
The Warriors broke the Yak press on two consecutive possessions as Bakalarski found Tilleman down floor twice and Tilleman finished to give the Warriors a 70-61 lead with 40 seconds left.
The Yaks fouled to try and prolong the game. It didn’t work as the Warriors hit 7-of-8 free throws over the last 30 seconds to close the victory. Thompson hit two, Radliff hit four in a row, and Thompson finished with 1-of-2 to complete the scoring.
“We’ve been scoring 94 points a game, but the last two games, we’ve had 70 and 77 (in two wins). (But) at this time of the year, a win’s a win,” Reinland said. “We’ll regroup and try to get better for Blue Mountain (Saturday).”
Porter, with those six triples, led the Warrior with 22 points. Bakalarski added 15, and Radliff scored 14 points, grabbed seven rebounds, and handed out five assists.
Justin Hill tallied 20 points to lead the Yaks. Modesta Britten was Yakima’s only other double-figure scorer with 14 points.
The Warriors improved to 9-3 in the East, 18-6 overall, and are alone in third place in the region standings, one game behind North Idaho and Spokane and one game ahead of fourth-place Big Bend. With four league games left they remain in strong contention for a ticket to the NWAC Championships.
Yakima, 2-10 in league play and 8-16 for the season, is out of postseason contention. The Yaks travel to Wenatchee Saturday and play a makeup game at Blue Mountain Monday.
Article by Ken Morgan of the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin
Photo by Greg Lehman of the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin