The Walla Walla High School boys basketball team completed the December portion of its 2019-20 schedule 7-0.
The final three victories came in Lewiston, at the annual Avista Holiday Tournament at the Lewis Clark State College Activities Center.
First-year head coach Adam Berg felt his team was “fairly untested” going into the three-day road trip, but was confident before an opening-round game with Eastmont.
“I knew that the tournament was a first-class tourney with some really good teams in the bracket,” Berg said. “We had seen some film of Eastmont and knew that they would be a tough matchup. They played hard, fast and had a few players that I thought we might have trouble defending.”
The Blue Devils’ Jacob Coram and Michael Cornia provided an outside-inside punch in the first quarter that seemed to overwhelm the Wildcats.
Coram knocked down three of his eight 3-point field goals in the game and Cornia tallied eight points as Wa-Hi raced to a 22-4 lead after eight minutes.
Cornia ended up with 14 points and Diego Jaques chipped in 12 for the Blue Devils during a 70-55 victory.
“I knew that we were going to have a long day with the bus trip, checking into the hotel prior to the game, and our start would be important,” Berg said. “I was proud of the way our guys responded. We played about even after the big lead was built, leaning on the shooting of Jacob Coram.
“We were able to come away with a good win against a team that eventually qualified for the state tournament.”
An overtime contest with tournament co-host Clarkston and star guard Tru Allen followed.
Wa-Hi rallied from a nine-point halftime deficit for a 54-53 win.
Dylan Ashbeck scored 13 of his team-high 15 points in the second half, Cornia chalked up 14 and Jaques added 10 points.
Coram scored seven points in the extra frame after four scoreless quarters.
“This felt like a true road game for us,” Berg said. “I knew that Clarkston was a well-coached team. They had a good, balanced team. This was a great defensive game as both teams struggled to score. “We had a great look at the end of regulation that missed, but prevailed in overtime against a team that finished second in the (Class 2A state tournament),” Berg said. “This was another quality win for our guys.”
The Blue Devils faced tournament co-host Lewiston for the tournament championship.
“Another true road game,” Berg said. “Lewiston was big, tough, physical, skilled and well-coached. We watched them the previous two days and knew this was going to be a big test for us. We would have to battle a team that wanted to play one way — tough and methodical — and find a way to play our game, which was the opposite of what they did.”
All seemed lost when the Bengals built a 44-28 lead midway through the third quarter.
Wa-Hi was in desperate need of a lift — and got one.
“We needed a spark and called on Brandon Smith and Josiah Wik (with a 3) to provide that,” Berg said. “They did just that and rallied us to only an eight-point deficit (47-39) at the end of the third.
The Blue Devils carried that momentum into the fourth quarter and outscored Lewiston 24-8 on their way to a 63-55 triumph and the program’s first Avista crown.
Ashbeck racked up 24 of his game-high 28 points after the first quarter and was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. Smith ended up 11 points — nine in the fourth quarter.
One of Wik’s key moments was a third-quarter trey.
“This was such a fun game to be a part of,” Berg said. “We got the spark we needed and came away with a great victory.
“Not only was our entire team great that day, but our junior varsity team was 30 feet away and cheering like the best student section in the state — which they did multiple times all year.”
Wa-Hi concluded the season with a 17-6 record overall.
“We were happy with the tournament,” Berg said. “We faced three different, but tough, challenges and came away with a trophy — which is great for our program.
“That three-day stretch was a big part of the reason why we had a good season.”