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Kings of the court

Dramatic playoff run earns Yaks their sixth men’s basketball championship

When the final Northwest Athletics Conference men’s basketball poll came out in mid-March, Yakima Valley College was nowhere to be found. Yet before enduring a mid-season slump, the team got a taste of what it was capable of in winning the Red Devil Classic at Lower Columbia College in late November, beating three teams in the NWAC top 10 at the time.

“We had some experience up against some of the top teams all year long,” said Head Coach London Wilson. “We also could see that the East Region was going to one of the toughest regions to qualify for the playoffs.”

All the hard work that started months before with pre-season practices paid off as the team hit its stride in mid-February and entered the playoffs on a hot streak, going 4-1 over the final two weeks of the season as the #3 seed in the East Region.

Yakima Valley carried that hot streak all the way to the sixth men’s basketball championship in program history. After winning two games with clutch baskets in the final seconds to reach the championship game, the Yaks took home the trophy with a 70-57 win over Bellevue College that combined dominant defense with a dynamic backcourt. The championship is Yakima Valley’s first in men’s basketball since 2008.

Basketball player layup
Chris Murphy, No. 23, takes a shot at the rim versus Green River in the opening round of the NWAC Championships.

The team kicked off its tournament run by upsetting #2 seed Green River 60-58, hitting the winning basket with two seconds left.

In a defensive battle, YVC used an efficient shooting attack and stingy defense to stymy Green River. The Yaks took possession with 16 seconds and the game tied up at 58-58. After a missed shot, Christian Murphy pulled down an offensive rebound and claimed the lead with a put back. While Green River got one more chance to score, their attempt for a tip-in play at the net as time expired trickled out and gave the Yaks the victory.

“Multiple players could be called upon at any time for the jobs we needed done on the court. I feel we also had bench depth, as in support, energy and enthusiasm all game long in each of the games due to our depth on the bench.” — Head Coach London Wilson

The Yaks continued their run the following day, beating #1 seed Lane 74-64 to advance to the semifinals. For most of the contest, the teams went back-and-forth, with seven tied scores and eight lead changes.

But with 10 minutes to play and the scoreboard knotted up at 49-49, the Yaks went on a 6-0 run to build a lead that they wouldn’t surrender. The Yaks played a strong inside game, shooting 57% from the field.

Quentin Raynor lead the Yaks with 18 points alongside five rebounds and seven assists, while Christian Murphy and Alexzander Delgado each contributed 16 points.

Basketball player attempts layup
Godwin Ilumoka, No. 4, attempts a layup against Lane in the quarterfinal round of the NWAC tournament.

The Yaks’ Final Four matchup versus Olympic featured more dramatics.

Playing from behind most of the game, in the last 40 seconds the Yaks made three 3-pointers, including the game-winner by Mason Tinley with just 10 seconds left on the clock to shock the Rangers 77-76 and advance to the championship game.

Delgado paced the Yaks with 18 points followed by Raynor’s 15 points and five assists and center Conner Turner contributing three blocks to go along with 14 points and six assists.

“The dramatic wins late in the games speak to the level of trust our players have in their teammates and coaches and the belief they have to get the job done no matter how dire circumstances may seem,” said Assistant Coach Ray Funk. “To win a tournament takes talent, yes, but it also takes a group of guys willing to play their roles and trust and believe in the process.”

Wilson noted how prepared players were to embrace the pressure of the biggest moments.

“As I listened to them in the post-game interviews, it’s almost like they are reenacting our practices, situations, lesson plans and verbalizing them, which is exactly what you want to see — understanding and growth,” Wilson said.

Basketball player takes shot
Alexzander Delgado, center, attempts a floater in the Yaks semifinal game against Olympic.

In the championship game, the Yaks freshman Godwin Ilumoka sparked Yakima Valley’s offense early, scoring 16 of his game-high 21 points in the first half. Then, a 12-0 run early in the second-half proved decisive with the Yaks holding Bellevue to worse than 24% shooting from the field after halftime.

Yakima Valley’s Delgado was named Tournament MVP while Christian Murphy was named Most Inspirational. Quentin Raynor was named to the tournament’s First Team, while Murphy and Godwin Ilumoka received Second Team honors.

Basketball three-point shot
Quentin Raynor takes a three-point shot in the championship game versus Bellevue.

The essential contributions of so many players to the Yaks championship run speaks to the depth of the program and the quality of players, Wilson noted.

“Some players did not receive playing time or consistent roles in game planning, only due to our depth,” Wilson said. “Multiple players could be called upon at any time for the jobs we needed done on the court. I feel we also had bench depth, as in support, energy and enthusiasm all game long in each of the games due to our depth on the bench.”

While Wilson is proud of the team’s success on the court, just as important are the bonds that developed this season and will last for life.

“Many of our ‘life lessons’ and talks sometimes went longer than expected, but they showed tremendous growth throughout the season,” he said. “When the players are already talking about being in eachother’s weddings, that they are going to visit them in their own hometowns many years after this year, and joy and emotions following the championship game — it meant it was real. The bond that we all formed over the course of the last six and a half months is really what the journey is all about.”

Male basketball player
Freshman Grey Braun drives through the defense during a February victory versus Treasure Valley Community College.