The Richland boys basketball team didn’t get quite the start it wanted Friday night at Art Dawald Gymnasium.
With a relatively inexperienced lineup featuring just one senior, the Bombers spent their first four minutes finding themselves.
Down 16-3 after six minutes, Richland coach Earl Streufert called a full timeout to settle his team down.
Instead of railing at a team that missed its first five shots and didn’t score its first points until Jacob DeVries drilled a 3-pointer with 3 minutes, 38 seconds left in the first quarter, Streufert encouraged them.
“Sometimes I think coaches control things a little too much,” he said. “I wanted to let them fight through it on their own.”
The Bombers spent the next three quarters doing just that, erasing a 14-point deficit to win their season opener 59-54.
“I’m pretty sure it was just pre-game jitters. Once we shook it off, we started to get into our game,” Richland junior guard Payton Radliff said.
Radliff finished with 16 points, tying DeVries for the team lead, and Mason Hilty scored 13 much needed points off the bench, giving Richland the emotional boost it needed at just the right times.
“Mason has been playing really well. He’s got a bum shoulder, so I didn’t want to play him a lot. But when I put him in, I didn’t want to take him out,” Streufert said.
Hilty recorded a pair of steals in the second quarter, when the Bombers started to turn things around. He went coast-to-coast after one steal, driving for a layup to spark a 7-4 run that cut Gonzaga Prep’s lead to 23-32 at the half.
Richland continued to attack on offense, forcing the Bullpups defenders to foul. By the end of the third quarter, three key Prep players had four fouls.
“Coach told us to just keep driving and keep attacking,” Radliff said.
Radliff started an 8-0 run midway through the third period, getting a steal in the backcourt and racing in for a layin. On the next possession, he dished the ball inside to Nathan Streufert for two. Hilty capped the run with a 10-foot jumper off the glass, cutting the lead to 41-34 with 3:38 left in the third.
“We stemmed the tide just enough in the first half,” coach Streufert said. “We thought we could get them in foul trouble if we ran our offense and got away from playing 1-on-1.”
Streufert said that the game was exceptionally physical, especially considering it was the first game of the season.
“You know what you’re going to get when you play Gonzaga Prep, and we were in no way prepared for that level of physical play. It had a district-playoff feel to it.”
Richland went on a 10-0 run to start the fourth quarter, pulling even with Prep at 48 on a Hilty free throw. The Bullpups went back up 50-48 on a pair of free throws by Jacob Groh, but Radliff hit a 3-pointer from the left wing to give the Bombers their first lead at 51-50 with 4:05 left in the game.
“We got a couple of turnovers in the full court that led to some easy baskets, and we started to feed off the crowd,” coach Streufert said.
Prep pulled ahead once again at 53-51 on wtih 2:29 left, but Hilty fed DeVries inside for two points to tie it with 1:58 left to tie it.
The Bullpups hit another free throw to pull ahead 54-53, but Nathan Streufert found Steven Beo for a reverse layin to give the Bombers a 55-54 lead.
Richland wouldn’t trail again, holding Prep scoreless the rest of the way.
Streufert, the player, battled foul trouble since the first quarter. He finished with eight points but had two clutch steals in the final three minutes.
“We just told Nate to keep his head up and play smart,” Radliff said. “We knew he’d be back in the second half.”
GONZAGA PREP — Sam Dowd 13, McClary 7, Ryan Alexander 14, Chapman, Groh 6, Gruber 5, Kuykendall 4, Elofsen 5, Marano, Hoerner. Totals 21-48 7-15 54.
RICHLAND — Jacob DeVries 16, Beo 4, Payton Radliff 20, Broeske, Streufert 8, Hilty 13, McCullough 3, Wheeler. Totals 18-49 17-24 59.
Gonzaga Prep 20 12 16 6 — 54Richland 8 15 15 21 — 59
Highlights — 3-pointers: GP 5 (Alexander 4), R 5 (Radliff 3); Rebounds: GP 25 (Groh 8), R 23 (Beo 5); Assists: GP 11 (Alexander 5), R 10 (DeVries 3).