In a game where neither team shot lights out from the free-throw line, the final result would be determined by which team could convert from the charity stripe down the stretch.
That team turned out to be the Hoquiam Grizzlies.
Hoquiam shooters converted 5-of-6 foul shots in the final two minutes to earn a key 52-50 1A Evergreen League victory over Elma on Friday in Elma.
Down 48-45 after Elma’s Raiden Aho buried a 3-pointer at the 2:00 mark of the fourth quarter, Hoquiam responded when Cameron Bumstead converted two free throws followed with a layup a possession later as the Grizzlies retook the lead 49-48.
Elma’s Nick Church then made an nifty up-and-under move to score as Elma regained the lead 50-49 with just over a minute left.
But that was the last field goal either team would make in the game, as free throws turned out to be the difference down the stretch. Bumstead was fouled again with a little over 30 seconds left, converting both freebies to give Hoquiam a 51-50 lead.
Elma’s Johnston was fouled, but missed the front end of a 1-and-1 as Hoquiam held a one-point advantage.
Hoquiam’s Zach Elsos hit the back end of two free throws, giving the Grizzlies a 52-50 lead with approximately 20 second left in the game.
A last-second 3-point attempt by Elma’s Sawyer Witt failed to hit iron, giving the Grizzlies a 52-50 victory, their first league win of the season.
“The kids know that the games can be won or lost at the free-throw line and this was one of those games that demonstrated that philosophy,” Hoquiam head coach Curtis Eccles said. “Fortunately for us, it ended up being a win because free throws.”
Hoquiam (5-6 overall, 1-1 Evergreen 1A) hit 9-of-14 fouls shots for the game, 5-for-8 in the fourth quarter.
Elma (5-7, 0-1) converted 5-of-15 free throws total and just 3-for-8 in the final eight minutes.
“It kind of turned into a free-throw shooting contest, and going 5-0f-15, you’re just not going to win a lot of games shooting that way,” Elma head coach Jeff Niemi said. “That’s two games in a row now where if we get a backside rebound, we’re probably going home happy. That’s the frustrating part. We just couldn’t close it out with a rebound in the end.”
Elma held a six-point lead twice in the game. The Eagles jumped out to an 8-2 lead in the first quarter before Hoquiam took the lead at 12-11 later in the frame. Elma held a 43-37 lead after a Cobey Moore free throw early in the fourth quarter, but Hoquiam again responded, pulling closer after Cayden Schempf hit back-to-back baseline jumpers to cut the Eagles’ lead to 44-41 with 3:38 left.
Hoquiam would regain the lead less than a minute later on jumpers by Garrett Dick and Bumstead just under three minutes left.
The lead would change hands three more times until Bumstead’s free throws gave Hoquiam the lead for good.
Bumstead led Hoquiam with 18 points, nine rebounds, five steals and five assists while Schempf added 11 points on 5-of6 shooting for the Grizzlies.
Witt and Johnston led Elma, scoring 13 and 10 points, respectively.
The victory was an important one for a Grizzlies team that had lost a double-overtime heart breaker to Aberdeen followed by being on the wrong end of a rout against Montesano.
“This is huge because a loss tonight means three in a row and the kids would be down in the dumps,” Eccles said. “This type of win, playing Elma on the road, is a huge win for us and gets us back to 1-1 in the league.”
Niemi will use this coming week’s practice to get the up-and-coming Eagles back on track.
“It’s kind of a little bit of a gut-check time for us,” he said. “You’ve got to decide: Are you going to compete to the end or not? Two times in a row we haven’t finished the job. So that’s the word of the week for next week: Finish.”