Pasco boys basketball team makes playoff push

January 23, 2013 

One hour isn’t much compared with the hundreds of hours of preparation that go into each basketball season.

But when the Pasco boys took 60 minutes to search their souls after a 47-35 gut-check loss to Kamiakin on Jan. 4, it sure made a difference.

“It wasn’t just the coach barking out orders. It was more like, ‘We’ve got some problems. Let’s fix this,’ ” Bulldogs coach Charlie Villanueva said. “I went to each and every kid. I told them, ‘I’m not going to get upset with anyone. Let’s put this on the table. Here’s your shot. What do you need to see from me?’ ”

After several close losses over the last couple seasons, the players agreed that Villanueva needed to be a little tougher on them at times.

“If we have one Achilles’ tendon, it’s coming out of the gate slow. In a lot of our losses, it’s the lazy runouts in the first couple minutes that kill us,” Villanueva said. “I told them, ‘From now on, I’m not going to put up with it. If you’re not doing what we want you to do, you’ll have to sit down and take a drink of water.’ ”

The response has been remarkable. Pasco was 2-8 after the home loss to Kamiakin but has played .500 ball over its last six games to improve to 5-11.

Villanueva said the turnaround coincided with the return of Miguel Torres, a 6-foot guard who missed the team’s first 10 games because of injury.

“We’re 3-2 since he came back,” Villanueva said. “He’s been averaging about 11 points, six rebounds and a steal and a half for us. He makes a big difference. He gives us another dimension.”

The Bulldogs have posted two notable upsets over the last two weeks, including a 62-54 road win at Hanford on Jan. 15.

“If you want respect, you’re going to have to knock off one of these big boys,” Villanueva said. “Hanford was the first big boy. The next night we beat Walla Walla, another big boy. That really, really fired us up.”

Other Mid-Columbia Conference teams are noticing.

“They’re hitting some shots. They have some players that can score,” Kennewick coach Bradyn Leyde said. “If they get hot, they can turn you over.”

If the Bulldogs (4-7 MCC) can win their final three regular-season games -- they play Friday at Chiawana before finishing up with home games against Kennewick (Saturday) and Southridge (Feb. 1) -- they will have a shot at overtaking Walla Walla for a favorable berth in the Class 4A district playoffs.

Pasco hasn’t qualified for the district playoffs since 2009.

“I’m telling my kids if they can win out, and Walla Walla (11-6 overall, 6-5 MCC) gets beat, you could conceivably slide into the No. 2 spot and get another shot at the big boy (Richland),” Villanueva said.

The Bombers (13-4, 9-2) have clinched a tie for the top 4A district seed and will earn the No. 1 spot with a Walla Walla loss. w Jack Millikin; 582-1406; jmillikin@tricityherald.com

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