The Bellevue Christian boys basketball team began the season with only three returning varsity players, so a third straight trip to the 1A state tournament might have seemed unlikely. After a 15-5 regular season and a district championship, the Vikings found themselves once again taking the long bus ride to the SunDome in Yakima.
The Vikings lost their opening tournament game to the Meridian Trojans, 61-49, on March 4, bringing an end to their season. Despite the loss, Bellevue Christian head coach Brandon Kats said he is proud of what the team accomplished this season.
“I know expectations might have been a bit lower, but I told them down the stretch that they deserve to be in the regionals, they deserve to be in the tournament because of what they’ve done this year,” Kats said. “Even though you come up a little short and the end of the season is always abrupt, I think once the dust settles, the pride that I have for this group is what really stood out for me.”
A big reason for their success this season was the Vikings’ team-first style of basketball. The team got along well and they would play hard for each other. Kats said that unselfishness made them a tougher team to play.
“It was a true family-type atmosphere, where they were happy for their teammate’s successes,” Kats said. “When you want to play hard for more than just yourself, when you want to make the winning plays because you want the team to win, it makes you a lot harder to beat.”
After a 38-27 win over Vashon Island in the district championship game, the Vikings lost to the River View Panthers, 51-47, in a regional playoff game on Feb. 29. Kats said the team missed some shots and had some uncharacteristic turnovers in the loss.
“It was kind of a coin-flip game that could have gone either way,” Kats said. “We didn’t knock down a couple shots that could have changed the outcome.”
The loss to the Panthers set up a loser-out first-round game against the Meridian Trojans in the state tournament. After a close first half, the Trojans were able to pull away for a 61-49 win on March 4.
At halftime, the Vikings held a 26-25 lead over the Trojans. After Bellevue Christian forward Lucas Meissner made the first shot of the second half to extend their lead to 28-25, the Trojans went on a 7-0 run to retake the lead. Meridian held onto their lead for the rest of the game to secure the win and end Bellevue Christian’s season.
Kats said that Meridian’s run at the beginning of the third quarter was a big turning point in the game.
“From then on, Meridian kind of dictated the pace and we ended up having to chase a little bit, which played into their hands, with the way they wanted to play,” Kats said.
Kats said the Trojans look to score points off turnovers and they were able to do that in the second half. Meridian scored 15 points off turnovers in the second half.
“I think that ended up being the difference in the game,” Kats said. “We just didn’t take care of the ball enough with their pressure, and we allowed them to turn those turnovers into points.”
Playing loser-out games on the big stage at the SunDome amplifies the urgency for the players because every possession is magnified. Kats said their lack of state-tournament experience played a factor in their 24 turnovers against Meridian.
“I think the pressure of the game affects the players more than a league game,” Kats said. “If you make a mistake, it amplifies it in your players’ mind, to the point where it affects them in future plays. When you turn it over, it affects the next couple of possessions in your players’ heads.”
In the loss, senior guard Elliot Hohman led the Vikings in scoring with 16 points and added five assists. Senior forward Joseph Primas also came up big for the Vikings with eight points and 12 boards.
Kats said that the 6-foot-5 Primas took a big step forward offensively in his senior season.
“We knew he was good, he was a returning player, but his offensive game improved so much throughout the skill development,” Kats said. The final buzzer in the loss to Meridian spelled the end to the high school basketball careers of their three seniors: Hohman, Primas and Malcolm Schiltz.
The Vikings will have plenty of key returners next season, including guards Jared Whitton and Avery Morgan.
“A ton of guys who didn’t have varsity experience got that this year,” Kats said. “I think they understand a little bit more about what needs to go into it.”
Kats said that a big part of setting up the team to succeed next summer is going to be about putting the work in during the offseason.
“We have eight months until the next season turns around, so what we do in those eight months is going to help determine what next year looks like,” Kats said. “I think our returners are motivated to continue to put in the work, continue to get better, get back to state and continue to build on what we had this year.”