COULEE CITY — Two years ago the Almira/Coulee-Hartline boys went undefeated into the 1B championship game where the hammer finally fell in a loss to Neah Bay.
Last year, they lost to Lummi Nation in the semifinals, then came back to win the last game of the season to finish third with a win over Pomeroy.
Coach Graham Grindy has gone unbeaten. He’s gone battle-tested with a few hiccups along the way. To tell you the truth, he prefers battle-tested, and that’s exactly what the 2017-18 Warriors are as they make their way to the Spokane Arena.
They stayed alive with a 58-57 victory in overtime over Wellpinit last week to advance to Friday night’s 8 p.m. regional with No. 1 Sunnyside Christian (22-1) at Eisenhower High School in Yakima.
“Sunnyside is the defending state champs, so it’s kind of a familiar position for us to be in,” said Grindy, whose team is 18-5. “I like playing the underdog card. The character of this team is as tough as they come. There’s never a doubt in their mind that they’re going to be in every single game they play.
“When push comes to shove, I think the identity of the teams we’ve had the past two years is toughness.”
The ACH football team rebounded from a regular-season loss to Sunnyside to win the 1B state championship. It’s the same guys, different sport, but there’s bound to be some of that leftover emotion when they take the floor. The winner will go into the eight-team 1B bracket at the Spokane Arena, the loser will have to win a play-in game on Wednesday.
Maguire Issak is the trigger man for the Warriors, averaging 18.3 points a game. The Warriors junior is a quality perimeter shooter, averaging 42.1 percent from the floor (150-365) and 37 percent from 3-point range. ACH post Payton Nielsen is averaging 14.6 points a game to go along with 10.8 rebounds.
The depth and quality minutes coming off the bench has made a difference this season, Grindy said.
“We’re fairly deep and if we have to go with eight guys, it’s going to be OK,” he said. “I know that any tournament we go into we have quality guys coming off the bench when guys get tired or in foul trouble.
“Chase Gerard is a starter, but he can take over the point guard responsibility when Mac goes out. Reese Isaak is just an eighth-grader, but he’s as tough as anybody out there. He was 7-for-10 from the free-throw line against Wellpinit. He had eight rebounds and took two charges. Gage Burchill played great defense, all of our guys can have an impact.
“We just need to knuckle down, play hard on defense and do what we do.”
The No. 7 Warriors go into regional game against No. 1 Sunnyside as the underdog, but as the Knights found out in the state football championship, there is some fight in this dog.
Rodney Harwood is a sports writer at the Columbia Basin Herald and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org