YAKIMA – Defending a championship is never easy, but the King’s boys basketball team made it look that way.
The Knights rolled to an 80-39 win over Freeman on Saturday to win back-to-back 1A state championships.
“I’m still a little shell-shocked by our performance tonight,” King’s head coach Rick Skeen said. “That was a really good basketball team, 23-3, but two of those losses were without their best kid. I just thought we played our best basketball on Saturday night. That’s really hard to do.”
The outcome was really never in doubt. King’s jumped out to a 23-6 lead after one quarter and continued to build its lead throughout. The 40-point running clock mercy rule was enacted in the final minutes of the third quarter.
As he has so many times, junior Corey Kispert led the Knights in scoring. He finished with 29 points, 21 of which came in the first half.
“Corey is just special,” Skeen said. “(He’s) a special player, special kid and an awesome teammate. I’m probably not going to announce my retirement this year. If he’s got one more year, I’ve got at least one more year. This is a special group. I just love being a part of what they do.”
Kispert shot 6-for-9 from the field in the first half, including 4-for-7 from 3-point range.
“Nothing compares,” Kispert said after the game. “I thought I had the best feeling in the world last year, and then to come back here and do it again, it’s even better. It’s even sweeter.”
The Knights graduated eight seniors from the team that won the 1A state championship last year, but it didn’t matter. This team is one of the closest groups Skeen can every remember coaching.
“It’s such a special group, the way they love each other,” Skeen said. “Our whole experience a year ago, I think you can see that they play with love and joy on the court. It’s unique. It’s something I can’t really explain unless you are around it and see it.”
Skeen was referring to last year’s bus crash, which happened when the Knights were returning from a victory over Lynden Christian in the bi-district championship. The crash changed the lives of the Knights’ players and coaches, creating an unbreakable bond.
As fate would have it, the Knights faced Lynden Christian again in last year’s state championship game, winning 45-40.
Kispert got help from his teammates. Senior Cole Mitchell finished with 15 points, senior Koa Wilkins chipped in 13 and senior Sam Echelbarger had nine points and 15 rebounds, 10 of which came in the first half.
“I’m super-proud of those senior kids that were huge for us,” Skeen said. “Koa Wilkins, Cole Mitchell and Sam Echelbarger, all three played really good tonight, but all three are part of the reason we’re here. Everybody talks about Corey, but you can’t win it with just one guy.”
Unlike last year when the championship game was in doubt until the final buzzer, the Knights had plenty of time to enjoy their victory over Freeman.
“It was really nice to get those guys that are junior and seniors that don’t really get to play that much into the game,” Kispert said. “It was really good to get that first-half lead stretched out so we could focus on building it in the third quarter and getting people in. It’s valuable experience that they’ll always remember and us guys enjoy watching them play.”
Aaron Lommers covers prep sports for The Herald. Follow him on Twitter at @aaronlommers and contact him at email@example.com.
At Yakima Valley SunDome
Freeman 6 11 7 15 – 39
King’s 23 21 23 13 – 80
Freeman–Jack Paukert 3, Michael Coumont 11, Nate Jacobus 11, Ryan Maine 11, Christian Phillips 0, Ryan Crosswhite 0, Rhys McVay 0, Dylan Oja 0, Quin Hopkins 0, Jake Nickerson 0, Jarett Wright 3, Jackson Clark 0. King’s–Cole Mitchell 15, Koa Wilkins 13, Corey Kispert 29, Sam Echelbarger 9, Chewy Zevenbergen 6, Dawson Porcello 0, Christian Lopez 0, Josh Frohardt 5, Johnny Foley 0, Carson Dreher 0, Luke Wicks 0, Taylor Schoenfeld 3. Records–Freeman 22-4. King’s 24-3.