Courtesy of Alex Field of the Walla Walla-Union Bulletin
WALLA WALLA – With his defender fighting through a pair of screens and less than 40 seconds remaining in the game, Walla Walla Community College’s Nate Richards rose up from behind the 3-point arc with a chance to take the lead.
As his shot bounded through the net to take a 93-90 lead, Richards’ defender and longtime friend, Kwinn Hanson, swung to the shooter a beat too late and was whistled for a foul.
“That was probably one of the best moments of my short career here,” Richards said. “It just meant a lot to me that coach put that much faith in me to draw the play up to me. I’m just glad I practiced enough that I made the shot.”
Although he didn’t finish the four-point play, Richards’ shot gave Walla Walla enough of a cushion to escape with a 95-92 win against visiting Spokane on Wednesday.
“He hit the big 3,” coach Jeff Reinland said of Richards, who finished with 19 points. “It’s too bad he couldn’t finish the four-point play. It was just a great opportunity for him and a big 3 on his best friend, Kwinn Hanson.”
Richards had nothing but respect for Hanson, who finished with a game-high 26 points on 11-of-12 shooting, but said it was sweet to score another victory against Hanson and the Sasquatch this season.
“Kwinn, I would say, is probably one of the best post players I have played against,” Richards said. “We have a little rivalry going on. Being able to play with him twice and win twice, that’s a little page in my book.”
“We can’t stop Kwinn,” Reinland added. “We tried. We were going to double and we couldn’t get there fast enough. He’s the best post player in the NWAACC this year. He does a lot of good things. He’s just a really good player and I’m glad he’s graduating.”
Walla Walla (12-13, 5-6 in NWAACC East) looked to be in command late in the game after Prince Lacey drilled a 3-pointer from at least five feet behind the arc to give the Warriors an 83-73 lead. But Spokane’s long-range gunners answered back with four of their six 3-pointers coming in the final three minutes.
Jack Nygaard started the Spokane barrage with a trey to cut the Warrior lead to 85-79, before Sam Druffel came up with another 3 on Spokane’s next possession.
After a Garret Sawyer trey made it 88-82 Warriors, Spokane cut the lead to two on a pair of Nygaard free throws and a Hanson hoop. But Walla Walla’s Caleb Bravard answered immediately, as he grabbed a Lacey miss and put it in the hoop to make it 90-86.
Nygaard splashed another 3 to cut the lead to one, but Richards’ 3-pointer and two clutch free throws from Sawyer allowed the Warriors to escape with the narrow victory.
“We went to our matchup zone because we weren’t doing well in man-to-man,” Reinland said of the late Spokane rally. “They’re playing loose — they know they’ve got to take those and make them or they’re going to lose, so there’s no pressure. I’m just glad we hung on.”
The Warriors also found themselves without any of their usual ballhandlers down the stretch due to injuries and foul trouble. Guards Dallas Reich and Joe Underdahl both fouled out late in the second half and point guard Satchel Schetzle was relegated to only 19 minutes of playing time due to an ankle injury.
With Reich and Underdahl on the bench, Reinland was forced to reinsert Schetzle down the stretch. That decision paid off, however, as his lone assist of the game came on Richards’ dramatic 3-pointer.
“He didn’t do the stuff he does,” Reinland said of Schetzle, who scored a game-high 32 points against Spokane earlier this season. “He didn’t drive. He wasn’t quite ready to go, but he was good enough to give us some minutes.”
Bravard led Walla Walla with 23 points on 7-of-8 shooting, including two 3-pointers. More importantly, Bravard poured in 12 of his points after halftime. Reich added 13 points with ten coming in the first five minutes of the second half.
After opening the half with a driving runner, Reich hit a pullup 3 to tie the game at 42. He wasn’t finished there, however, as he hit another 3 in the corner before hitting a fadeaway jumper on the right baseline.
“We were going to go to Dallas the whole second half, unfortunately he got in foul trouble and it cut it short,” Reinland said. “Dallas is a hard guy to guard. (He) just has to look for his shot more.”
Lacey also came up clutch after intermission, as he scored all of his 13 points in the second half. He nailed three 3-pointers, but none were more important than his final 3-pointer that seemingly came from a different area code to give Walla Walla a 10-point lead.
“We play way better when we get Prince making a few shots,” Reinland said. “He’s a catalyst because he’s our best shooter and we don’t have a lot of shooters.”
Walla Walla is currently sixth in the NWAACC East with three regular season games remaining. Reinland said the Warriors are in control of their own destiny in regard to the NWAACC tournament.