Crusaders dominate Timberline Blazers to reach state quarterfinals

March 4, 2014

By Neil Pierson

Eastside Catholic’s dominating performance against Timberline in last week’s regional playoff game may have sent a message to the other seven teams in this week’s Class 3A boys basketball state tournament.

The Crusaders (21-5) may be the new kids on the block at the Tacoma Dome – they haven’t reached state since 1999 – but they’re clearly not entering the state quarterfinals with a just-happy-to-be-here mindset.

Eastside Catholic won the opening tip, scored a layup seconds later and led by 21 points after the first quarter. The Crusaders shot 64 percent in the first half and never slowed up, beating Timberline 80-40 in the regional round Feb. 28 at Bellevue College.

They’ll face University (15-9) in the 3A quarterfinals at 10:30 a.m. March 6, and coach Bill Liley’s squad figures to be laser-focused going in, just as it was against Timberline.

“We had an outstanding shoot-around today – I’m not sure if we missed a shot, and it continued when we came out here,” Liley said. “The kids were locked in, and they were focused on making sure we got a chance to go to Tacoma.”

Two Sammamish residents played key roles in the Crusaders’ dissection of Timberline, a team that features Washington recruit Donaven Dorsey and a good supporting cast.

Matisse Thybulle led his team’s fast start, scoring 16 of his game-high 20 points in the first quarter. He scored eight straight points – a breakaway dunk and two 3-pointers – that set the tone for the game.

“It helps so much when the first few shots go in, and we took that momentum and carried it,” Thybulle said. “And it just didn’t really stop, so that was great.”

Meanwhile, EC’s defense was just as good at keeping the Blazers away from the basket. Dorsey, a 6-foot-6 guard, was hounded at every turn. He missed his first four shots and finished with 11 points.

Nathan Christie had a big hand in those numbers.

“I started out guarding him, and we knew he was basically their dude they were going to go to when they needed a bucket,” Christie said. “But basically we just played him straight up – fronted him in the post, made sure he couldn’t get any touches down there, and made him play from the outside.”

Timberline (13-12) righted the ship a bit after the Crusaders took a 25-4 lead into the second quarter. But the Blazers never made a big dent in the early deficit because of EC’s balanced offensive attack, which easily broke through full-court pressure to score several layups.

The Crusaders hit a dozen 3-pointers in all, including six in the fourth quarter after most of the starters had left the floor. They even instituted a running clock with a 40-point lead in the final minute, a rarity in playoff basketball.

Zach Wallin (13 points) and Max Hudgins (10) were EC’s other double-digit scorers.

Having six days of rest coming into the game had a positive impact, the team felt.

“We had a week to prepare, and we couldn’t take a single day off,” Thybulle said. “And I think the fact that we didn’t let up once in practice is the reason we did so well in the game.”

If the Crusaders get past University, they’ll face Wilson or O’Dea in the semifinals at 3:45 p.m. March 7. The state title game is at 7 p.m. March 8, and the likely foe could be top-ranked Rainier Beach.

Beach has defeated EC three times this season, including a 78-38 shellacking in the Feb. 22 Metro League championship game. But the Crusaders were missing a few players in that one, and at full strength a week earlier, they held a late lead against the Vikings before losing, 68-65.

“We feel like we’ve played them the best of anyone this year,” Liley said.

Another motivating factor is the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association’s decision to grant Rainier Beach a waiver to compete in a national tournament in New York City. The catch? The Vikings have to finish undefeated first.

“This whole week while we were preparing was all about the WIAA going ahead and pretty much crowning them the champions already,” Liley said. “That doesn’t sit too well with us. We want another shot.”

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