RICHLAND -- A lot of capable hands went into Hanford's gutty 57-50 CBBN 3A victory over Sunnyside on Tuesday night in Richland.
But to tell you who was going to bring it home, all you had to do was listen to the crowd.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
The Falcons' rowdy student section gave much-deserved props to Hanford's beefy senior post, who scored a game-high 25 points and pulled down 11 rebounds.
The win keeps the Falcons (8-10, 7-5) locked into third place, slightly above a mish-mash of teams vying for the No. 4 seed and a first-round home playoff berth.
"Aaron is an emotional and competitive kid. He's a lot like me," Falcons coach Paul Mayer said. "He's had some trouble with fouls, and that was the big thing tonight. We want him on the floor, and he did a great job staying out of foul trouble."
Sunnyside (6-12, 4-8) pulled ahead early 15-9 thanks to a 7-0 run capped by a 3-pointer by Greg Spini with 2:02 left in the first quarter.
But Hanford answered back in the second quarter when Bear Braich's 3-pointer from the left wing finished an 8-0 run that tied the score at 24 with 4 minutes left in the half.
Braich has been the Falcons' top 3-point threat all season -- he hit three in the first half -- but he left the game after falling hard on his right thumb and did not come back. With their top perimeter threat gone, the remaining cast of guards had to step up and keep pressure off Neary by hitting shots from outside.
"Coach told us at the half that we had to step up and score," said point guard Jalen DeVine. "He was talking to a couple of us. I had zero points at the half."
But DeVine was one of the players answering the call, finishing with 10 points, including a pair of 3-pointers and some key free throws down the stretch. But his biggest accomplishment of the night was staying composed against Sunnyside's frenzied full-court pressure in the final two minutes of a tight game.
"That's the message I sent to Jalen. We've got to keep our poise," Mayer said. "I talked to all the guys about stepping up, and Jalen really played well. Kurt (Rueter) picked up his game, and Mike Funk really gave us some big minutes."
In the end, though, it was Neary who was the deciding factor.
The 6-3, 260-pound post was too much for the Grizzlies to handle inside but also showed some moves inside. More than once, he got the ball on the low block and dribbled underneath for a reverse layin. In the third quarter, he scored on a transition layup after stealing the ball on the other end.
Over the final 3:30 of the game, he dominated, grabbing three rebounds and scoring six points. Thanks to the Falcons' hard-nosed defense, they outscored Sunnyside 14-2 over the final quarter with Cam Wagar holding Israel Manzo -- the league's top scorer -- to just two points over the final nine minutes of the game.
Manzo led the Grizzlies with 19 points.
"This was a playoff game for sure," said Neary, who will sign a letter of intent today to play football at Eastern Washington University.
Israel Manzo 19, A.Daley 2, Leija 6, Serl 15, Amaro, E.Salmeron 4, R Salmeron, Fernandez, Spini 2, Barrios 4. Totals 20-55 5-5 50.
Wagar 4, Braich 11, DeVine 10, Rueter 4, Aaron Neary 25, Funk, Douglas 3, Nash. Totals 15-34 21-29 57.
Sunnyside 17 14 15 4 -- 50
Hanford 11 18 13 15 -- 57
Highlights -- Rebounds S 28 (Manzo 6), H 25 (Rueter 12, Neary 11); 3-pointers: S 5-14 (Manzo 2, Serl 2), H 5-15 (Braich 3, DeVine 2); Wagar 3 steals, 2 assists.