By Aaron Lommers Herald Writer
SULTAN — For three quarters, Sultan and Granite Falls played about as close of a boys basketball game as two teams can play. Then the Turks’ Brock VandenEkart took over and turned a close game into a blowout.
Sultan was clinging to a 38-36 lead when the final quarter began, but no one would know it by looking at the score of their decisive 61-45 victory over the Tigers on Friday night in the first Cascade Conference game for both schools.
VandenEkart scored 13 of his game-high 33 points in the fourth quarter when the Turks outscored the Tigers 23-7.
“I wasn’t surprised, but very happy that we finally arrived,” Sultan coach Nate Trichler said of his team’s fourth quarter performance.
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“It took us a while to figure out who we are. This whole season we have been struggling with who we are. And I think the adversity of this game actually showed us who we are.”
There was adversity for both teams and every possession proved vital. The teams were tied at 11 at the end of the first quarter and neither had a lead bigger than four points then. Granite Falls nudged ahead in the second quarter and took a 25-23 lead at halftime. Throughout the first half, neither team led by more than four points.
The Turks faced their biggest challenge right away in the second half when Granite Falls went on a 7-0 run to extend the lead to 32-23. Trichler immediately called timeout.
“I was more worried (more) about how they did it than what the score was,” Trichler said of the Tigers’ run. “It was on things that we had talked about at halftime. They did exactly what we talked about at halftime and we didn’t respond to it like I asked them to. I called that timeout to say, ‘I just talked about these things at halftime and we aren’t doing them.’ And all of the sudden, Brock kind of took over the huddle at that point. That internal leadership is what really sparked us.”
Aside from VandenEkart’s play on the court this season, Trichler said VandenEkart’s biggest improvement is how he has embraced a leadership role.
And after the game, VandenEkart focused on his team’s effort, not his big night individually.
“Everyone on the bench brought some energy,” he said. “Antonio (Rivas) takes two charges two plays in a row, that gets everybody fired up. The fans get everybody fired up. It’s everybody on the team, the cuts are there. Everyone is getting open. It’s not one person doing something, it’s the whole team contributing.”
The two charges Rivas took weren’t without some controversy. Neither call was well-received by the Tigers fans and after the game Granite Falls coach Jim Wilson said those two plays had their effect on his kids.
“You never want to blame the refs, but they had a couple of calls that I think our kids thought were tough calls on us,” he said.
VandenEkart said he thought the two charges were key in the Turks’ final run.
“The two charges — I feel like that was just the swing of it right there,” he said.
Of course, VandenEkart’s ability to put the ball in the basket in the fourth quarter helped swing things, too.
“This last week has been huge for Brock,” Trichler said. “He’s learning to become a leader. He’s doing the right things and he’s saying the right things, which going into the season he wasn’t there yet. As this game went, and actually as this week went, you could see his attitude turning into what we needed as a team. I’m not surprised that he had a game like this because of what I saw during the week changing.”
Wilson said Sultan’s ability to continually feed VandenEkart in the fourth quarter was the difference in an otherwise close game.
“They just did a better job of handling the ball and getting it into the paint,” Wilson said. “(VandenEkart) did a great job. He just took over the game.”
Aaron Lommers covers prep sports for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at email@example.com.
At Sultan H.S.
Granite Falls — Brandon Leitzke 0, Riley Larsen 14, Evan West 7, Dan Matalomani 4, Drew Benson 12, Nick Elvrom 2, Karl Spencer 0, Tanner Peep 6. Sultan — Robbie Rappuhn 0, Steven Branham 13, Bubba Branham 4, Brock VandenEkart 33, Corbin McQuarrie 0, Cooper Beucherie 4, Sam Cotterill 1, Antonio Rivas 0, Deion Bonilla 6. 3-point goals — Larsen 4, West 1, VandenEkart 1. Records — Granite Falls 0-1 league 2-2 overall, Sultan 1-0, 2-2.