Skip to content Skip to sidebar Skip to footer

Apr. 9—The last time the Grays Harbor Chokers men’s basketball team took the court it earned its first trip to the Northwest Athletic Conference Tournament in 11 years.

That game back in February of last year seems like an eternity ago.

On Tuesday, the Chokers made their long-awaited return to the court and did so in victorious fashion, defeating Centralia College 79-75 at Grays Harbor College.

Grays Harbor (1-0 overall) fell behind early after struggling in the early going. The Chokers, which features several new faces and just two returning sophomores, trailed 19-12 and faced a double-digit deficit at 29-19 in the first half.

But the Chokers temporarily righted the ship to go on a 13-0 run, taking a 30-29 lead on a three from freshman forward Justin Evans followed by a layup from sophomore guard Sammy Legleu for a 32-29 advantage.

The game remained a back-and-forth affair for the better part of the first half, with neither team able to separate by more than four points.

Tied at 37-37 in the final minutes of the first half, another Grays Harbor run would give the Chokers some breathing room heading into halftime. The Chokers outscored Centralia 8-2, capped by a Tristan Schoepf layup off a long, lead break pass from Legleu, to take a 45-39 lead into the half.

A Legleu layup gave the Chokers their biggest lead of the game at 51-40 early in the second half, but Centralia (0-1) began to whittle away at the deficit. The Blazers tied the game at 55-55 on a layup by James Harding.

But the Chokers kept Centralia from sustaining any momentum and, after a timeout, utilized and more active 2-3 zone defense and solid rebounding to frustrate the Blazers offense.

“We did get better after that timeout. That was due to great coaching by me to bring my former assistant from down when I was in Arizona to our staff,” quipped Grays Harbor head coach Matt Vargas. “I’m smart enough to know when I need some (additional) help. … I’ll take help wherever I can get it and (assistant coach Michael “Stu” Stuard) saw some things and tweaked (the 2-3 zone) for us and it made the difference. That’s all Coach Stu right there.”

The Chokers converted their defensive success into points on the offensive end, turning what was a 61-60 lead into a 76-66 lead on Logan Walker free throw with 3:44 to play.

RYAN SPARKS — THE DAILY WORLD Grays Harbor guard Logan Walker scores on a layup during the second half of the Chokers’ 79-75 victory over Centralia on Tuesday. Walker, who led Willapa Valley to a fifth place finish in the state tournament as a junior last season, was eligible to play for Grays Harbor after earning his high school diploma early and enrolling at the college.

RYAN SPARKS — THE DAILY WORLD Grays Harbor guard Logan Walker scores on a layup during the second half of the Chokers’ 79-75 victory over Centralia on Tuesday. Walker, who led Willapa Valley to a fifth place finish in the state tournament as a junior last season, was eligible to play for Grays Harbor after earning his high school diploma early and enrolling at the college.

Centralia pulled to within two baskets at 76-70, but Schoepf buried a three to put the Chokers up 79-70 with 1:18 to play.

Grays Harbor’s free-throw shooting abandoned them down the stretch, going 0-for-6 as Centralia was forced to foul, but the Chokers defense held firm to emerge with the 79-75 season-opening victory.

The game was admittedly far from a masterpiece for either team, as inconsistency and turnovers were prevalent. Grays Harbor committed 19 turnovers in the game, but held Centralia to just 13 points off those giveaways.

The Chokers shot 56.6% from the field on 30-of-53 shooting and 58.3% on 14-of-24 from the free-throw line.

Legleu led Grays Harbor with 17 points off the bench in a game where the Chokers held a 35-20 advantage in bench points.

Evans and Reece Wallace scored 14 points each for the Chokers with David Featherstone Jr. adding 12 points for Grays Harbor.

Harding led Centralia with 15 points as the Blazers were held to 44.4% shooting on 28-of-63 shooting.

Vargas believes that as the team gets more familiar with one another and gets healthier — Schoepf just returned from an injury this week and fellow returning sophomore Matt Pearson is out with a concussion — their consistency will improve.

Now in his third year at the helm of the GHC program, Vargas said this season is different for the obvious (COVID) and not-so-obvious reasons.

“It’s a different year than I have ever coached because I have to be really careful. When they normally get here in August, we have an exhibition (game) in Ocotober and you can push them really hard and then it’s over by February,” he said. “This year they have been hearing my voice since August, so they’re burned out and a little bit tired and a little bit exhausted. So now we’re having to find different buttons to push, practice times are a little bit different. … It’s tough and it’s really hard to coach right now. It’s a real credit to the players.

“The fact that (the administration) is supporting these student-athletes like we never had before, the kids feel it and they see it. That has kept them intrigued. A win like this is going to carry us for a little while.”

Centralia 36 36 — 75

Grays Harbor 45 34 — 79

Source