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Wednesday’s College Basketball: Centralia Completes League Sweep by Crushing Clippers

By Jordan Nailon

jnailon@chronline.com

The Trailblazers capped off a perfect 14-0 run through the Northwest Athletic Conference West Region in women’s basketball with an 83-48 win over South Puget Sound here at Michael Smith Gymnasium on Wednesday.

The win guarantees Centralia top-seeding to the NWAC tournament next week and puts the finishing touches on their unblemished league title.

“It feels good. You’ve got to come every single day and you’ve got to come prepared no matter who your opponent is,” Centralia coach Caleb Sells said. “It’s not easy you’ve got to get a little lucky along the way but these girls are pretty perseverant for a bunch of small kids. They fight. They scrap. And sometimes we just make enough shots.”

On Wednesday the Blazers were able to sink 28 of 65 shots from the field while knocking down 16 of 21 attempts from the charity stripe. Megan Cash scored a team-high 18 points with eight assists, seven steals and two steals. Caitlin Yenne added 17 points and five rebounds while Piper Cai tallied 15 points and three assists.

Centralia led 19-11 after the first quarter and took a comfortable 31-18 lead into the intermission before blowing up offensively in the second half. The Blazers put the bow on their regular season with 32-point outburst in the fourth quarter.

Sells credited the play of his six sophomores when asked how his team was able to maintain their consistency through the second half of the season. Those sophomores include Selena Cudney (eight points and a game-high 11 rebounds), Rachel Wilkerson (12 points), Lindsey Nurmi (10 points and five assists), Cash, Yenne and Cai.

“They know because we went through it last year with the ups and downs and they were going to do whatever they needed to do this year to make sure that didn’t happen again,” Sells said.

Sells has been particularly pleased with the play of Cash and Nurmi in the backcourt.

“Megan Cash. She just does everything for us. Smallest kid on the floor and she’s led us in rebounding three out of the last five games. She just has heart. She has desire. She plays tough and she’s just the ultimate team kid and when someone’s not having a good day she pumps them up or holds them accountable. She’s basically a coach on the floor and she’s got it going on right now,” Sells said. “My other point guard, Lindsey (Nurmi), those two just basically run the show out there sometimes and I just get to sit and watch. It can be pretty fun.”

With the win the Blazers will now set their sights on the NWAC Championship Tournament which will begin next Thursday in Everett. Centralia will enter the fray as a top seed with a date against a number four seed that will be determined during a live-draw at 4 p.m. on Sunday.

“Don’t be misled by that because some of the four seeds are ranked pretty high.”  “Basically every game from here on out is going to be a tough battle,” insisted Sells. “They actually do a bracketology unveiling show on YouTube. We get together here in the big classroom, it’s almost like a mini-movie theatre. We get pizza we hang out and we see it all come on down.”

Blazers Comeback in Second Half to Sink SPSCC on Sophomore Night

There wasn’t a lot for the Trailblazers to play for here at Michael Smith Gymnasium on Wednesday other than pride, but they didn’t let that inconvenient fact stop them from pulling off a second half comeback to topple South Puget Sound 79-74 in NWAC West men’s basketball action.

The win brings the Blazers season to a close with an overall record of 11-17 and a 6-8 mark in league play. The game also represented the end of the line wearing blue and gold for sophomores Tyler Ashmore, Jaylin Walker and Taylor Peppinger.

“They’ve done a great job. They came to work every day and worked hard. Unfortunately it didn’t go the way they would like it to go especially being in last year’s run and having that kind of fall short this year but those guys work hard every day,” Centralia College coach Jason Moir said of his sophomore trio. 

“It shows a lot, even when things are going the way that you want them, that they continue to come out every day and work the way that they have and not make excuses and not blame others,” Moir said, “and just try to continue to encourage everybody that was out here to continue to stay focused and just get in and get it done.”

The Clippers, on the other hand, had plenty to play for. A win would have clinched a NWAC West title and given them top seeding to the NWAC tournament. The loss allowed Lower Columbia to leapfrog into first place in the West.

Centralia carved out an early six-point lead but a pair of emphatic dunks by the Clippers stole the momentum away and soon the home team was trailing by several buckets. A barrage or heat-check 3s and a constant attack toward the rim gave the appearance that SPSCC was poised to run away for good.

But they didn’t.

While the Clippers dominated the highlight reel the Blazers just kept plugging away and playing their own under the radar and dreaming brand of basketball. With about six minutes left in the first half, Elijah Hoover drained a 3 to tie the game up at 25-all but a bad final minute left the Blazers down 47-42 at halftime.

Branden Bunn spent plenty of time hanging from the rim for SPSCC and finished the contest with a game-high 34 points on 13 of 16 shooting, including a six of eight mark from beyond the arc. Anthony Braggs added 19 points and a game-high 10 rebounds.

Those efforts helped the Clippers stake out some more breathing room early in the second half before the Centralia zone defense began to give them fits.

With 10 minutes remaining in the game, Mikey Adams dropped in a point-bank bucket to tie the game up for the first time since 25-25 and Hoover followed suit with two points in the paint to give the Blazers their first lead since 12-10.

Hoover scored 11 of his team-high 19 points in the second half to help the Blazers over the hump. Jaylin Walker notched 17 points, two blocks and two steals in the win while Tyler Ashmore added 14 points and six rebounds. 

After stretching their lead to 76-71 with two minutes to go, the Blazers had to hang on while the Clippers made a final charge but a series of free throws from Taylor Peppinger and Jerry Boston Jr. down the stretch helped Centralia hold on for the win. Peppinger and Boston both chipped in 10 points for Centralia.

Even before the game Moir was in a mood to appreciate the contributions of his three sophomores, noting with a coach’s pride that “you didn’t have to babysit any of them.”

“Jaylin brought some toughness and ball handling ability that we lacked… Tyler’s been great. He’s a great local kid and we’re happy for him and waiting to see where he goes next. Taylor is just a great high energy kid. Very positive. He’s definitely going to be missed,” Moir added. “I know there’s a couple of schools who have shown some interest in all of them and we’ll try to get them out to some spring open gyms and see what happens there.”

The win in a seemingly meaningless game was particularly poignant as Moir attempted to properly highlight the intangibles that his veteran players brought to the court this season.

“At the end of the day you play basketball for trying to build that team and that chemistry with one another. That’s what it really comes down to tonight, is about playing for each other and playing to respect the game and the way it needs to be played,” Moir said. “Yes, it’s not great that you don’t have a chance to make it to the tournament but that’s just one part of playing basketball. The rest is we have to continue to build and continue to work through adversity.”

WOMEN’S

At Centralia

BLAZERS 83, CLIPPERS 48

S. Puget Sound        11    7    18    12    —48

Centralia        19    12    20    32    —83

    S. Puget Sound (48) — Brandis 2, Brown 21, Griffin 11, Grose 5, Gifford 4, Francisco 2, Abesamis 3

    FG: 18 of 54 —.333 FT: 10 of 17 —.588 Reb: 30 (Brown 11)

    Centralia (83) — Cudney 8, Cai 15, Yenne 17, Wilkerson 12, Nurmi 10, Cash 18, Huffine 3

    FG: 28 of 65 —.431 FT: 16 of 21 —.762 Reb: 36 (Cudney 11)

MEN’S

At Centralia

BLAZERS 79, CLIPPERS 74

S. Puget Sound        47    27    —74

Centralia        42    37    —79

    S. Puget Sound (74) — Braggs 19, Cahtman 9, Janssan 2, Bunn 34, Kara 5, Wallace 2, Tinnin 3

    FG: 29 of 67 —.433 FT: 2 of 5 —.400 Reb: 31 (Braggs 10)

    Centralia (79) — Walker 17, Boston 10, Peppinger 10, Matsen 3, Ashmore 14, Hoover 19, Adams 4, Arceo-Hansen 2

    FG: 27 of 59 —.458 FT: 13 of 17 —.765 Reb: 38 (Peppinger 8)

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