Northwest Christian reaches final 8

Jeff Edgington
Special to West Valley Preps

Northwest Christian basketball has a productive Class of 2018. It was no different Saturday night on a playoff stage.

Senior Wes Hunter hit a cutting Zach Johnson under the hoop for a layup with 1.7 seconds remaining in the 3A playoff game and No. 7 seed Northwest Christian pulled out a gritty win over No. 10 Queen Creek Casteel 46-43.

“Great look. Great patience by Wes to find me. That was the plan to get a last shot up. We didn’t want to take chances,” said Johnson who had a game-high 22.

Junior forward Zach Johnson goes up for a layup against Queen Creek Casteel in Saturday’s 3A first round game at Greenway High School. (Kelsey Groff/Special to West Valley Preps)

Andrew Augustine came out on fire for 8 before most of the crowd was comfortable. But the game shifted arguably was late in the opening frame.

Colts Coach Mark Huston made some adjustments to limit the juniors production. Augustine went quiet the rest of the night.

So the Crusaders, countering, went inside. Coach Jason Cook strategy was to pound it inside to Johnson and allow Tyler Kohner to create. It worked.

Despite a lull from the second quarter through the middle of the third, the favorite woke when it matter against a young but fiesty Colts bunch.

“We have these moments every now and then where we just go ice-cold shooting. That let them back in the game after the first,” Coach Cook said.

The Colts execution beyond the arc and defensive intensity sparked the rally from down 19-6. Cooper Christensen, Austin Ponsness, and Chris York led a balanced attack. They youngsters cut it to just seven at the half.

Coach Huston remarked on the effort in the middle of the game.

“Proud of my guys. It’s unforunate. I told the kids. They’ll be better for it,” he said.

Kohner went to the basket on back to back possesions in the third that flipped momentum. For only having underclassmen, Casteel showed moxie.

They grinded out with Austin Ponsness and Tate Schow taking over on the offensive end. The sophomores gave the Colts a couple one point leads as the two traded slim margins.

Northwest Christian (17-8) will have a challenge with No. 2 seed Lakeside Blue Ridge in the quarterfinals in Prescott Valley. That brought a grin from Johnson. For him, Kohner, and the other football kids it’ll be a chance to make a statement against Blue Ridge again.

“We got them in the Fall. Joking aside basketball-wise we will have to watch some film and get back to work. We don’t know too much about them yet,” Coach Cook said.

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