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Elma clutches up down the stretch to beat Montesano

Jan. 10—For the second straight league game, Elma's bench was hit with a technical foul at a critical moment in the second half.

And for the second consecutive league game, the Eagles responded with a victorious effort.

Elma rallied from down seven in the fourth quarter to defeat Montesano 56-53 in a 1A Evergreen League thriller at Montesano High School.

In front of an electric, packed crowd at the Bo Griffith Memorial Gymnasium, the two East County rivals traded blows for much of the first two quarters.

Montesano (10-3 overall, 1-2 1A Evergreen) jumped out to a 6-0 lead before Elma (8-5, 2-0) tied the game at 10-all heading to the second period on a drive and layup from senior guard Cason Seaberg.

The Eagles took a 17-13 lead on a layup from senior guard Grant Vessey off an assist from senior post Carter Studer with 3:35 to go in the first half.

The Bulldogs responded with five-straight points to take an 18-17 lead on a Tyce Peterson free throw with just under two minutes left in the second quarter.

Elma outscored Monte 8-4 over the final two minutes of play, highlighted by a Seaberg three and a pull-up jumper from senior post AJ Holmes to take a 25-22 lead into the half.

At the start of the second half, Elma jumped out to a 29-22 lead on a Studer layup followed by a pair of free throws from Seaberg, but Monte stormed back to tie the game at 29-29 on a jumper by senior guard Jaxson Wilson with just under three minutes on the clock.

The two teams traded barbs the rest of the frame, with Monte holding a slim 35-34 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

With Monte up 42-40, what appeared to be a hard foul against an Elma player was not called by the referees.

Montesano gained possession of the ball and went up 45-40 on a three from junior guard Delon Chan.

Upset with the non-call, Elma head coach Matt Ferrier was assessed a technical foul, his second in the Eagles' two league games after earning a tech in the second half in a win over Hoquiam on Jan. 2.

"Obviously, it's (the referee's) judgement call, but our guy gets driven into the ground, well, I'm going to stick up for my guys," Elma head coach Matt Ferrier said.

In almost identical fashion to the Hoquiam victory, Elma responded positively after the foul.

Peterson made 1-of-2 technical free throws to put Monte up 46-40, but a turnover on the ensuing possession gave the ball back to the Eagles.

Studer then scored in the paint to cut Monte's lead to four, but Chan followed with a corner three to give the Bulldogs their biggest lead of the game at 49-42 with 4:58 to play.

Elma scored the next seven points, tying the game at 49 on a Carter layup off a Seaberg assist with 3:31 on the clock.

"(The technical foul) completely changed the game, and what I mean by that is my guys get fired up when they're put against the wall," Ferrier said of his team's response to the foul call. "They knuckled down when they needed to down the stretch. ... It turned in our favor. It energized us and energized our crowd."

"(Ferrier) said in the locker room that he wasn't going to talk to the refs," Elma junior guard Theo Flores quipped. "We just turned up our intensity from there."

The Eagles regained the lead at 51-50 with a pair of Holmes free throws with 1:14 left.

Seaberg extended the lead to 53-50 on a baseline drive and layup and — after a Monte miss rebounded by Studer — Monte was forced to foul Flores with 21 seconds on the clock.

With the chance to cushion Elma's lead, Flores stepped to the line and calmly knocked down both free throws to put the Eagles up 55-50.

"I locked in and just kind of shut the crowd out," Flores said of his clutch free throws. "I had to sink those two and, luckily, they went in."

On the ensuing inbound, Seaberg — who was marked up on the hot-shooting Chan — twisted his ankle in the front court, allowing Chan to race away with the inbound pass and bury a 3-pointer with 19 seconds left.

Monte then fouled Carter, who made 1-of-2 free throws to keep the door open for the Bulldogs.

On the final possession, Chan got to the perimeter and was looking for a game-tying three, but an Elma double team that turned into a triple team forced Chan to pass the ball to senior Gabe Bodwell, whose shot from beyond the arc rang off the back iron.

Carter tapped the ball back toward Studer as the final buzzer sounded, securing the heart-p0unding victory for the Eagles.

"Grant Vessey makes a good judgement call and sees that he can get free from his guy and goes and double-teams it and forced a bad shot," Ferrier said of the final play. "It was perfect."

"We have not been in those moments as a team where we're playing a game that matters against our rival school," Monte head coach Leonard Barnes said. "We'll learn a lot from it. We'll watch film, come back to practice tomorrow and will be better from it. Our effort is there, we just need more opportunities and learning experiences."

Elma was led by Seaberg with 21 points on 7-of-18 shooting.

Studer added a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds for an Eagles team that outrebounded Monte 30-25.

Monte was led by Chan with a game-high 23 points while Peterson added 14 for the Bulldogs.

No other Bulldog scored more than four points in the game as Monte went 19 for 48 from the field (39.5%) and 8 of 17 from the free-throw line (47%).

Elma shot 37% from the floor on 20-of-54 shooting and went 13 of 21 from the charity stripe (62%).

Free-throw shooting down the stretch turned out to be key as Elma made 5-of-8 (62.5%) in the final two minutes of the game while Monte was 2 of 5 (40%) in the fourth quarter.

"I thought they were composed and ran some of their stuff. They made some free throws and kept going inside and things went there way," Barnes said of Elma. "Two good ball teams played. We're getting better and better. I'm proud of my kids' effort. If we play that game again, it can go the other way."

Though the game represented just the second league game on the schedule for both teams, the outcome could potentially have huge implications in the league standings as both Monte and Elma figure to be in the mix with Tenino for a league title.

"Every one of our games, and everyone else's games in league are going to be fairly close. You're not going to see a lot of blowouts," Ferrier said. "So if you can grind out a couple of wins on the road, it's fantastic."

"It's big to win any league game on the road," Flores said. "Now, its just focus up and head into that Tenino game. ... We have to start good and finish that one strong too."

Elma take on Tenino in another key league matchup at 7 p.m. on Thursday in Elma.

Monte hosts White River in a non-league game scheduled for 6 p.m. on Thursday in Montesano.

Elma 10 15 9 22 — 56

Montesano 10 12 13 18 — 53

Scoring: Elma — Seaberg 21, Studer 10, Holmes 9, Carter 8, Flores 6, Vessey 2. Montesano — Chan 23, Peterson 14, Anderson 4, Damasiewicz 4, Crites 4, Gunter 2, Bodwell 2, Cobb 2, Taylor 2.