In a game between two rivals that featured more than a little pushing and shoving in the paint, it was fitting that the outcome would be decided by defense.
From the opening tip to the final whistle, the importance of the Elma-Montesano rivalry was evident. Elma (5-3, 3-0) traded buckets with the Bulldogs for most of the first half with Elma shooting 50 percent from the 3-point-line to lift them to a 30-21 halftime lead.
In the third quarter, Elma’s pressure on defense held the Bulldogs to only two points and helped give the Eagles a 60-33 win.
“We felt like if we could take and pressure the ball the way we are capable of it would force them into some difficult shots or possibly get the guys that we wanted shooting the ball instead of their main scorers,” Elma coach Marvin Prince said. “Our defensive intensity picked up in that second half.”
Montesano (5-5, 1-2) was held to 1-for-12 shooting from the field in the third and the Bulldogs turned the ball over nine times.
“We didn’t have any patience,” Montesano coach Doug Galloway said. “We didn’t get into any of our sets and their pressure took us out of that.”
The rivalry heated up at times with players having to be separated on several occasions and a double foul called at one point, but the knock out punch for Elma was shooting behind the arch where the Eagles went 9-for-18.
The win over rival Montesano is a boost to Elma’s confidence, but the Eagles have their sights on a higher goal. Before the season started some of the Eagles said the season would be a disappointment if Elma wasn’t able to win the Evergreen 1A League title and a 3-0 league record is a good start toward a championship.
“We just played physical,” Elma senior Chance Bremer said. “We knew they were going to come out at home with that rivalry and be really intense — 3-0 in league, I think, is the biggest part. We are putting space between us and everybody else and in this league you know anything can happen. Last year, we won two games the whole season so having our first three in league is a big confidence boost. The atmosphere is great to play in and hopefully we keep rolling.”
Bremer and senior Rashad Lorton led the Eagles with 11 points each. Elma Senior Ray Stark and senior Austin Neary each added eight points and senior Ryan Collin scored six points.
The Bulldogs were led on offense by senior Kody Usher and sophomore Alex Hopsecger, who each scored seven points.
“Hopsecger just has a lot of energy and he is at the right place at the right time,” Galloway said. “I really appreciate what he is doing and how far he has come so far.”
Senior Kenny Roy scored six points for Montesano.
Despite an undefeated record in league play and a win over their rival, the Eagles aren’t anywhere close to satisfied with the season. Prince said Elma will continue to work hard and simply focus on the next game on the schedule. Elma will return home to face Rochester on Friday and Hoquiam on Jan. 14.
“It is a process. It is one game at a time. This is just another game and that is how we are trying to approach it. There is a game on the schedule, lets go play that game and don’t worry about tomorrow, don’t worry about yesterday, just worry about the task we have at hand. We did what we needed to get out of here with a win and a very crucial victory.”