One word that could be used to summarize Montesano’s undefeated run through its 1A Evergreen League schedule is “poise.”
Through thick and thin, the Bulldogs stay focused and even-keeled. Never getting too far away from the game plan and never straying too far from composure.
The Bulldogs needed all the poise it could get in holding off the upstart Elma Eagles 70-61 in a memorable East County Civil War matchup on Thursday in Montesano.
Monte’s Senior Night started off with a heartfelt gesture to honor senior Sam Winter, who was unable to play his final basketball season as a Bulldog after suffering a knee injury in a playoff football game on Nov. 23, 2019.
Winter suited up and took the floor for the first time this season and, after the opening tip, received hugs from his teammates and an ovation from those in attendance.
Then the first quarter turned into the Sawyer Witt show.
Elma’s sharp-shooting junior guard was red-hot from the get-go, hitting four 3-pointers in the frame to stake the Eagles (10-10 overall,, 4-4 Evergreen 1A) to an early lead.
But Montesano point guard Braden Dohrmann kept the cold-shooting Bulldogs close, hitting 5-of-7 shots in the first quarter, including a layup with 15 seconds left in the frame to give Monte a 20-19 lead after the first quarter.
Neither team was able to get more than a four-point lead as the two rivals jostled back-and-forth for control for much of the second quarter.
Elma gained the upper hand when junior center Brady Johnston hit a jump shot to give the Eagles a 35-29 lead with 2:45 left in the first half.
But Monte’s defensive pressure began to bother Elma, and the Bulldogs made the Eagles pay. Monte (14-5, 7-0) began to claw away at the lead by attacking the basket and getting to the free-throw line. After the Bulldogs hit 5-of-6 free throws in a span of 28 seconds, Monte took the lead when Dohrmann scored off an offensive rebound with 30 seconds left in the first half.
Dohrmann then swiped the Elma inbound pass to score his fourth point in the span of two seconds and give Monte a 38-35 lead.
An Elma turnover on the next possession turned into more Monte points as Dohrmann took an outlet pass and scored on the break to cap an 11-0 Bulldogs run to end the half, and a 40-35 Montesano lead.
Elma, which has improved by nine wins this season, responded with a run of its own to begin the second half.
Witt hit back-to-back threes to erase the deficit and give Elma a 41-40 lead with just over a minute elapsed in the third quarter.
After a Monte miss, Elma point guard Canon Seaberg hit a straightaway 3-pointer to give Elma a 44-40 lead.
After Montesano’s Trace Ridgway hit a jumper to temporarily stop the bleeding, Witt struck again with a three from the corner to give Elma a 47-42 advantage.
The Eagles held the lead for much of the third quarter until a Ridgway drive and bucket tied the game at 49 with 1:22 left in the third.
Dohrmann then scored on the break with 30 seconds left as Monte regained the lead followed by a Ben Wills corner-3 at the buzzer to give Monte a 54-49 edge heading into the fourth quarter.
In the fourth quarter, Monte stretched its lead to seven on a Ridgway three with 6:26 left, but the Eagles got back into the game after a bucket in the paint from Nick Church and another three from Seaberg.
After Monte’s Cole Daniels hit a jump shot, Witt buried his 10th 3-pointer of the contest to cut the Montesano lead to 62-61 with 3:25 left.
Monte’s poise, which had helped the Bulldogs to close out every quarter, appeared again in the fourth.
Ridgway scored of an offensive rebound and, after an Elma turnover, Daniels hit a 3-pointer to stretch the Bulldogs lead to 68-61 with less than a minute left in the game.
Witt missed from downtown for just the third time in the game on the following trip and Montesano freshman Wesley Bjornsgard skied to grab the rebound.
Bjornsgard then made his way down court, drove the lane and made a Euro-step move around Johnston. Bjornsgard then scored on a left-handed layup and was fouled to set off a roar from the Bulldogs faithful. He converted the free-throw to give Monte a 70-61 lead with 1:39 left.
Elma missed its final five shots of the ballgame as Monte was able to run out the clock and pick up the 70-61 win.
“Elma games up to play us and they are a good basketball team,” Montesano head coach Doug Galloway said. “I was really excited to be able to hang with them as well as they were shooting. … I think this would have been a really fun game to watch if I was in the stands, but a stressful game to be a part of. But it’s fun and that’s why you do it.”
Elma head coach Jeff Niemi said that closing out quarters is something his Eagles team will have to work on if they are to compete for league titles in the future.
“I really thought we battled and that was our message: Don’t back down,” Niemi said. “A couple of stretches at the end of quarters, we got out of sorts in taking care of the ball and, to me, that was the difference in the game. … I think we’re proving we belong in these types of games, but the main thing we’ve told the kids is don’t be happy with competing in these types of games, believe in and win these types of games. That’s the next step for us.”
Witt finished with a game-best 30 points, hitting a staggering 10-of-13 (77%) 3-point shots.
Johnston added 10 points for Elma.
Dohrmann led Montesano with 24 point.
Ridgway added 16 points with Bjornsgard scoring 13 for the Bulldogs, which clinched the 1A Evergreen League title and No. 1 league-seed with the victory.
“The crowd was awesome tonight,” Dohrmann said. “It really amps us up and home-court advantage was big for us tonight.”
Dohrmann then thought of his injured teammate.
“I was playing for Sam tonight,” he said of Winter. “We’re missing him on the court and I thought I had to have a big game tonight for him. It’s Senior Night and we’ve got to come out with the win.”