Life Christian takes step toward another title

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Chief Leschi put up a solid fight in the first half against rival Life Christian, but the defending champions were too much for the Warriors in the third quarter. Life Christian freshman guard Omari Maulana was the gas pedal for the Eagles. While the Warriors were struggling for baskets, the speedy guard was blowing by defenders on his way to 18 points. Photo by Rocky Ross

Chief Leschi put up a solid fight in the first half against rival Life Christian, but the defending champions were too much for the Warriors in the third quarter. (Top) Life Christian freshman guard Omari Maulana was the gas pedal for the Eagles. While the Warriors were struggling for baskets, the speedy guard was blowing by defenders on his way to 18 points.

When we pull out the crystal ball to select our prep game of the week, sometimes the payoff isn’t quite what we had in mind. However, when you’re dealing with the topsy-turvy business of high school basketball, it’s nearly impossible to predict how a local contest is going to go down.

Chief Leschi sophomore Delshae Gower gets into the paint. Photo by Rocky Ross

The small schools often get overlooked, so we thought we’d circle the second boys’ matchup between the Life Christian Eagles and the Chief Leschi Warriors on the calendar as our feature game of the week. The Eagles have won three straight 2B Pacific League titles, and look to be on their way to a fourth this season.

Realistically, it looked as if Chief Leschi was going to be the only team in the league to truly put Life Christian to the test, and challenge them for the title. Of course, this would mean someone was going to have to actually beat the Eagles, something that no 2B Pacific League team has been able to do since Life Christian moved down from 1A in the summer of 2014.

Warriors’ sophomore Donnelle Irvin scored 19 points. Photo by Rocky Ross

That is no typo. Life Christian has not lost a league game in nearly three and a half years.

The timing seemed ripe for the Warriors. Fresh on the heels of their own 10-game winning streak, the state qualifiers from last season hosted Life Christian on Saturday, Jan. 6, in front of a packed house at Chief Leschi High School.

If you hadn’t known any better, you would have thought it was a district tournament game. The crowd was loud and electric, and the two teams gave each other their best over the course of the first half.

Early on, Life Christian looked like the defending league champions. Despite having some new talent suited up, Life Christian head coach Mark Lovelady has been able to find the right combination for the Eagles. They looked loose and ready, while the Warriors came out looking tight.

By the end of the first quarter, Life Christian led 17-12 and appeared to have some solid momentum building. The Eagles would stretch their lead to 22-12 early in the second quarter before Chief Lesch sophomore Donnelle Irvin put his team on his back and then exploded for 11 consecutive points, to even the score at 23-23 midway through the period.

Chief Leschi was buoyed by the sophomore’s energy and the remainder of the second period was a dead heat between the teams, with Life Christian getting two late buckets to give themselves a slight 33-29 advantage going into the locker rooms.

If the Warriors had any more of that momentum, they didn’t return to the court with it in the second half. While Chief Leschi couldn’t seem to buy a basket, Life Christian, led by freshman Omari Maulana and sophomore Eric Overgaard, began to pour it on. The Eagles poured in 23 points in the quarter, while holding Chief Leschi to just nine.

The Warriors’ defense had no answer for the speed of Maulana, and when they shaded toward the basket to prevent his drives to the hoop, Overgaard was hovering beyond the three-point circle, and his jump shot was catching nothing but the bottom of the net. Life Christian took a 56-38 lead into the fourth quarter and seemed to go into cruise control. It was more than enough, as the Warriors were still unable to get on-track offensively. The final score of 62-45 looked very different than the tight game that the fans in attendance saw enter halftime.

Life Christian’s Dawson Shamp had a huge night on the glass for the Eagles. The senior got his mitts on 20 rebounds, giving the Eagles numerous second-chance opportunities that they were able to capitalize on.

The victory put Life Christian in the driver’s seat for yet another league title. Following a well-fought 62-54 win over Willapa Valley on Tuesday, Jan. 9, the Eagles moved to 12-1 on the season, and third in the current RPI rankings.

On the flip side, Chief Leschi (10-4) was unable to shake off the emotional loss to the Eagles and were upset on the road against North Beach by a score of 77-76 on Tuesday, Jan. 9. The Warriors still look like the favorite to secure second place in the league standings and should be a dangerous team come district tournament time, if they can get back to their winning ways. The two losses knocked Chief Leschi from seventh in the RPI, down to 13th.

Meanwhile, the Lincoln Abes just keep on winning. Not only are the Abes the top-ranked boys’ team in the 3A RPI, but they have now earned wins over their two biggest foes in the 3A Pierce County League. When Lincoln visited Spanaway Lake on Wednesday, Jan. 3, the Sentinels entered the game 9-0 to nearly match the Abes 10-0 mark. Spanaway Lake held a 10-point advantage going into halftime, but the spark wasn’t there for them in the second, as the Abes came back for an impressive 68-62 victory. Two nights later, Lincoln hammered Bethel by a score of 80-42 to run their record to 12-0 on the season.

The Wilson Rams (10-2) boys put the rest of the league on notice when they paid their own visit to Spanaway Lake on Friday, Jan. 5. With their goal still set upon winning the league title for themselves, Wilson thumped the Sentinels 72-54 to take over sole possession of second place in the standings. Wilson has also moved up to ninth in the RPI rankings. Lincoln will visit Wilson on Wednesday, Jan. 24. Mark your calendars.

Our game of the week is on the girls’ side. The Wilson Lady Rams (7-4) will host Bethel (10-1) on Friday, Jan. 12, at 7 p.m. A win for Wilson would push the Lady Rams into second place behind Lincoln. Bethel will be looking to rebound following their 47-40 home loss to the Lady Abes on Friday, Jan. 5. The loss was the first of the season for the ninth-ranked Braves. Lincoln currently sits in fifth in the RPI, while Wilson is looking to make a move up from their current 18th position.

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