YAKIMA — If you rolled the rock out to Royal sophomore Caleb Christensen and asked him to shoot 3-pointers from the wing, he’d probably make 9 of 10. But his shot to send the game to overtime with time ticking down at the 1A Hardwood Classic caught the rim, bounced high into the air and then eventually fell to the floor and time ran out on the Knights season with a 43-40 loss to No. 8 Connell.
No. 9 Royal (19-6) traveled a long way for one more row with their South Central Athletic Conference East rival, but going against the No. 8 seed was a perfect setup to move into the 1A Hardwood Classic bracket.
It proved to be the lowest scoring of the three meetings between the two SCAC powerhouses. The Eagles (20-5), who went into the game on a two-game losing streak, won by 10 at their place. The Knights had won 15 of their last 16 games going in won the second meeting in Royal, winning by three.
The rubber match in the Yakima SunDome would settle things and even though both teams scored single digits in two of the four quarters, it had a championship feel to it with six lead changes and three tied scores.
Royal erased a 10-point Connell lead and it came down to one final shot with 5.7 seconds remaining in regulation.
“We’re both pretty good defensive teams, and both physical teams,” said second-year Royal coach Ray Valle. “It was what we expected.”
Valle called time out after Payton Riner made two free throws to make it a three-point Connell lead with seconds remaining. On the final play, speedster Angel Farias turned and broke for the other end like the go routes he ran on the football field and 6-foot-4 Sawyer Jenks gave him a chance with a high arcing entry pass from the end line.
It was Angel or bust against the triple team and the 6-2 senior went up in traffic and came down with the ball, kicking it out to Caleb Christensen on the wing for the final shot.
“It was supposed to go to Owen (Ellis) in the corner, but he was covered,” Valle said. “We got the look we wanted. We just didn’t get the shot to go.”
The Knights trailed 26-18 at the half and by as many as 10 in the third quarter, but chipped their way back with eight second-chance points, 12 off the turnover and another six off the fastbreak. Caleb Christensen closed the gap to 41-38 when he buried a 3-pointer from the right wing with 1:48 remaining. Tyler Allred made it a one-point game, 41-40, with 28.9 seconds left in regulation.
“They know us, we know them, there were no surprises,” Valle said. “We just tried to get the mismatches that we wanted. Unfortunately we had some foul trouble and that changed things a little bit.”
Nolan Chase left the door open when he missed the front end of a one-and-one and the Knights had possession and a chance to take the lead with 16 seconds showing. They rotated it right up top, but Riner, a 5-10 Connell senior, jumped the passing lane on the entry pass for the steal and the Knights were forced to foul.
A couple of free throws set up the final shot and the Knights got the look, it just didn’t go and their season ended on the Yakima SunDome floor at the 1A Hardwood Classic.
“I told the kids this was going to hurt for awhile, but when they look back they would see it was a great season,” Valle said. “This senior group really helped develop the program here. They really bought into what I’ve been teaching and the younger guys are seeing that.
“We’re creating a winning tradition and a winning culture that we can be proud of. You get a sense of family with these kids. Royal kids are good people and hopefully we can keep building on what we’re doing.”