Bellarmine Prep finishes strong to claim playoff spot

// Junior guards lead Tacoma Baptist to blowout win

Bellarmine Prep certainly responded after being pushed to the brink of playoff elimination a month ago. A loss to Narrows 4A champion Stadium in mid-January had put the Lions at 1-5 in league play, and postseason chances looked bleak. But Bellarmine rattled off six straight wins, capped by a 70-56 win over Yelm at home in their season finale on Feb. 6, to secure a spot in the district playoffs.

“We’ve definitely been taking every game as a playoff game, a must-win,” said junior forward Rex Bodoia, who tallied game highs of 23 points and 19 rebounds in the win over the Tornadoes. “I think we’ve gotten better at finishing games. A lot of the games we lost early in the season were close games, and we were in it for most of it.”

Bodoia helped get the Lions out to a quick start offensively, going 5-for-5 in the first quarter for 10 points. His rebound and put-back at the start of the second quarter put the Lions up 24-16, and Malachi Flynn gave the Lions their largest lead of the first half, at 33-21, with a three-pointer midway through the period.

Yelm closed to within 35-27 at the break on a layup in the final minute by Christian Davis, who was 6-for-9 in the first half for 15 of his team-high 20 points. Elijah Fuller – who finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds for the Tornadoes – nailed a three-pointer with 3:30 to go in the third quarter to pull within 46-42.

But Bodoia went back to work, helping the Lions’ break Yelm’s pressure defense by driving for layups at the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth to boost the lead to 56-44.

“They press really hard up front,” said Bellarmine Prep head coach Bernie Salazar of Yelm. “If we could get it past that first wave, we were often in a two-on-one or three-on-one.”

Mar’kese Jackson scored eight of his 14 points in the fourth quarter to help Bellarmine Prep pull away, while Will Wolf finished with 12 points and six rebounds and Carson Hollyoak added 10 points for the Lions. 

“I thought Will Wolf and I kind of dominated in the paint,” Bodoia said. “We would just give them a pump fake, they would (jump) up and we could just go straight up. We got a lot of free throws and we were just aggressive inside, and I thought it worked out well.”

After moving into a second-place tie with South Kitsap at 7-5, the Lions fell 70-60 to the Wolves in the tiebreaker on Feb. 8 at Stadium High School to settle for the third seed to district play. They will travel to play at Kentwood on Feb. 13 at 6 p.m. in their district opener.

For the Lions, the prospect of a tough road playoff game is way better than the alternative.

“I’m really proud of our guys,” Salazar said. “It’s been a great comeback.”

TACOMA BAPTIST CRUISES OVER SEATTLE LUTHERAN

Tacoma Baptist’s dynamic junior guards were at it again in their regular season finale. Brandon Stoehr finished with a game-high 23 points, and Dayton Pascua added 22 points as the Crusaders rolled to a 71-46 win over Seattle Lutheran on Feb. 11 to claim the third seed to the 2B Bi-District playoffs.

“Me and Dayton have played together since second grade,” Stoehr said. “It’s impossible to play when he’s out, and vice versa. We play off each other, feed off each other.”

The Crusaders were in control from the start, as Pascua’s steal and dish to Stoehr for a layup made it 10-2 with 3:18 left in the first quarter. The lead kept growing rapidly, as Tacoma Baptist’s pressure defense rattled the Saints – who were playing without injured star forward Abijah Smith – into mistakes and quick shots. Pascua’s driving layup with 3:30 until halftime increased the lead to 27-10, and the Crusaders led 34-16 at the break. Seattle Lutheran was just 7-for-24 in the first half, and committed 11 turnovers.

“We took a pretty bad beating last week against Bear Creek because we lacked intensity and our defensive pressure wasn’t there for whatever reason,” said Tacoma Baptist first-year head coach Jason Townsend. “The main focus coming into tonight was defensive pressure.”

Stoehr, who finished with a team-high five steals, noted that the defensive approach has helped fuel the offense.

“We get a lot of fast-break buckets,” he said. “When we do that, we’re very efficient. We’re hard to beat.”

Tommie Brazile banked in a three-pointer and Ben Cooksley added a three-point play within the first two minutes in the second half, making it 40-18 and ending any thoughts of a comeback. Cooksley finished with seven points and 13 rebounds, while Brazile added seven points, eight rebounds and three steals.

The Crusaders finished 13-7 overall and 6-4 in league play, and avoided the dreaded play-in game to the Bi-District tournament. They will travel north to take on either Concrete, Orcas Island or La Conner on Feb. 19 at 7 p.m. in their opener. With their high-energy guards seemingly peaking at the right time, Tacoma Baptist could be poised to make a run to the state tournament.

“It’s been a huge, huge blessing for me to walk into a situation with two dynamic guards who can just go,” Townsend said. He later added, “I think they haven’t really scratched the surface of their potential.”

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