ROYAL CITY — The SunDome or Bust bus the Royal Knights have been riding all season makes one more stop in Ellensburg on Saturday afternoon for a 1A regional round game with Bellevue Christian.
Both teams have punched their ticket to the Yakima SunDome, it’s just a matter of which door they want to go in. The winner on Saturday will advance to the eight-team bracket on March 1. The loser will play a play-in game on Feb. 28.
Either way, the Knights (20-4), who hadn’t won a SCAC East title since 1975, are Dome bound and ready to take their place among the state’s elite 1A programs for the final showdown.
“Going to the Dome is a dream come true for me, personally,” Knights coach Ray Valle said. “If you would have told me this was happening at the beginning of the season, I’m not sure I would have believed you. When I got the job, I had a few parents tell me if you go .500 it would be a good season.”
Bellevue Christian won a 69-67 non-league game the last time the two played. Ken West got hot from 3-point range and the Vikings (18-5) held the Knights to just eight points in the second quarter.
“The first time around, we weren’t comfortable in our own skin yet,” Valle said. “It was early in the season and we were still unsure of ourselves and how good we really were. Now, we know what we got and what’s in our locker room is enough. We’re confident now and we believe and that makes all the difference.”
Junior Owen Ellis is the leading scorer with 16.5 points a game. Corbin Christensen, a 6-foot-2, guard, is averaging double figures at 12.2 points a game. Gage Christensen, a 5-7 junior, is finding his range, as is Sawyer Jenks, a 6-4 post.
“I would say Isaac Ellis is the rock. He takes charge vocally. He wants the ball and tries to make something happen,” Valle said. “Corbin (Christensen) is the same way. They’ve been in the big game and they don’t get lost in the pressure.”
The Knights’ football team is coming off its third consecutive 1A state championship and has won 41 consecutive games, the sixth-longest streak in the nation, according to MaxPreps. Valle and his guys are changing the way the Royal Slope views basketball. They’re changing the culture one game at a time.
“All I’m asking is that they go out and play hard. I had some expectations in the very beginning that I kept to myself. But I could see the potential,” Valle said. “But going to the Dome? That's exciting. I'm excited. The kids are excited. I don’t think they’re too wide eyed. They’ve been there before in football. If we go in and play our game, we’ll be fine.”
Rodney Harwood is a sports writer for the Columbia Basin Herald and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org