High School Sports

Wa-Hi boys pack bags for state

Gary Winston has taken over his fair share of basketball games in his four-year career at Walla Walla.

It's not very often he gets a chance to finish the day with an emphatic dunk.

Before the Blue Devils wrapped up a 51-45 4A Eastern Regional victory over Kamiakin on Saturday at Toyota Center, Winston intercepted a pass at halfcourt late in the game and had a vision of a strong tomahawk jam to put Wa-Hi up 49-41 with under a minute left.

But not all endings are perfect.

Winston, who signed with the University of Idaho, didn't get a great takeoff thanks to a nagging ankle injury. The result was a soft, one-handed dip with little 'oomph,' but it still counted for two of his game-high 23 points, 17 of which came in the second half in which Kamiakin cut a 28-19 halftime deficit to 43-41 with just three minutes left.

"I was going to throw it down hard, but the ball slipped a little bit," he said, taking some playful chiding from his coaches and teammates after the comment. "I was."

The win puts the Blue Devils (22-5) in the 4A state tournament for the second straight season, a feat not lost on coach John Golden, especially after a first-round regional loss to Gonzaga Prep. It's Wa-Hi's 38th appearance dating back to 1923.

"I told the guys there's another way to get (to state)," said Golden, a Wa-Hi graduate. "We've played through this before, but never like this. Our division is so strong, just getting out of here is tough."

Kamiakin (19-7) ended its strongest playoff run in a decade with another strong second half, outscoring Walla Walla 26-13 down the stretch, but it wasn't enough to catch the Blue Devils in the end.

Tyler Holle led the Braves in scoring for the second straight night, recording 19 points -- 13 of them in the second half.

"Holle's overall growth has been tremendous. He has a high ceiling, and he's going to keep getting better," said Kamiakin coach Brian Meneely, who should return all 11 roster players next season. "It comes down to this: I really enjoy coaching these guys. They're also pretty good. But there are no guarantees.

"Our team last night was pretty crushed (after a 49-48 semifinal loss to Mead). We were one shot away from going to state. Now, unfortunately, you're in a situation with the fourth- and seventh-ranked teams fighting for state."

Blue Devils guard Michael Weisner, who will play next year at the University of Montana, finished with 11 points but went scoreless in the second half.

"(The comeback) shows how much heart we have," said Braves post Garrett Anderson. "But the farther we put ourselves in a hole, the harder we have to work."