SPOKANE — The No. 8 seed wasn’t even supposed to be there. Yet there they were, Saturday night on the Spokane Arena floor, all heart and determination, riding on the thought that good things come to those who work for it.
No. 8 Almira/Coulee-Hartline took No. 1 Sunnyside Christian (25-1) to the mat in an epic Rocky Balboa-Apollo Creed slugfest that took two overtime periods before it was over.
The Knights claimed their second consecutive 1B state championship, their 10th overall and seventh in the past 12 years with an epic 69-61 victory over the Warriors (20-7) in double overtime.
“They won the game, but we had more heart and I’ll take heart over a lot of things,” ACH coach Graham Grindy said.
Each team had its chances and the team that made just 16-of-26 from the free-throw line finally made enough (5-6) to pull away in the end.
“ACH, they earned their nickname, the Warriors,” Sunnyside Christian coach Dean Wagenaar said. “I knew it was going to be a battle. There was too much at stake for it not to be a battle.”
Maguire Isaak knocked down a 23-foot shot from the top of the circle to get the Warriors in range with eight seconds left in regulation. Sunnyside Christian senior Chance Marsh finished the night with a game-high 30 points, but missed the front end of a one-and-one to leave the door open at 52-49 with 4.2 seconds showing.
Senior Payton Nielsen, who was a part of two 1B championship games during his career, weaved his way through traffic and was fouled in the act of shooting a 3-point shot with less than a second in regulation.
Nielsen overcame whatever emotions were buzzing through his head to knock down all three with virtually no time on the clock to send the game to overtime.
“There’s nobody I’d rather have shooting those free throws,” said Isaak, who finished the night with 25 points, five rebounds and five steals. “I had no doubt we were going to overtime.”
ACH had possession with a chance to end it in the first overtime, but the Sunnyside Christian defense was so intense it forced an errant pass to the cutter with 26.4 seconds left.
“They’re a great team and they play great defense,” Isaak said. “They made more plays than us down the stretch and they played great defense on me in the second half. Because of that I had to start shooting long balls.
“But to go double overtime with Sunnyside is the definition of fun right there. Any competitor is looking for that. I’d rather go double overtime than win by 12 or lose by 12. What hurts the most is coming out on the losing side.”
Chance Marsh made it a four-point difference with a runner off the glass with 1:13 left in the second overtime and the Knights, who shot just 61.5 percent from the line, finally got enough to go to pull away.
Nielsen fouled out in the first overtime, but not before putting up eight points and 11 rebounds, nine on the defensive glass. He did all the little things with three assists, three steals and a blocked shot. He dove for loose balls on the floor. He intimidated shooters in the lane and he rebounded with the heart of Rocky Balboa. And in the end, he became the energy on the bench right to the very end of his high school career in double overtime on the floor of the Spokane Arena one more time.
Chance Marsh ended with a game-high 30 points. Lucas Dykstra had 13. Maguire Isaak was 5-of-13 from 3-point range for 25 to lead the Warriors. Hayden Loomis hit three 3-point goals for nine points. Timmy Hahn finished his ACH career with four points and a rebound.
Sunnyside 15 10 13 14 7 10 - 69
ACH 11 17 11 13 7 2 - 61
Sunnyside Christian — Cade Bosma 8, Chance Marsh 30, Lane Marsh 5, Lucas Dykstra 13, Luke Wagenaar 8, Kyler Marsh 5. Totals: 25-47 16-26 69
Almira/Coulee-Hartline — Chase Gerard 5, Maguire Isaak 25, Gage Burchill 4, Timmy Hahn 4, Payton Nielsen 8, Hayden Loomis 9, Reese Isaak 6. Totals: 20-50 12-15 61