Jan. 26—When North Central's boys beat Gonzaga Prep by five points on the road in a nonleague game earlier this season, it was the first time the Wolfpack beat the Bullpups in 17 years.
With that as a prelude, the teams tied at 4-2 in league play, and a full house for NC's senior night — with seven on the roster — the drama for Friday night's rematch could not have been higher.
For the second time in this burgeoning rivalry, the road team came away victorious.
Henry Sandberg scored 18 points, Nate Christy added 14 and the visiting Bullpups knocked off the Wolfpack 58-51. The win puts Gonzaga Prep (13-5, 5-2) in second place alone in the Greater Spokane League 4A/3A standings with two games to play.
Eli Williams led NC (13-4, 4-3) with 17 points, but 13 came in the first quarter, and Makai Daniels added 11. The Ervin brothers, Jacori and JuJu, were held to eight and four points, respectively.
Christy said since the earlier loss this game had been circled on the calendar.
"One hundred percent, absolutely," he said. "It feels great."
"That was a good win for us against a very good team," Gonzaga Prep coach Matty McIntyre said. "We seem like we're improving as the season goes along. I'm happy to see that."
G-Prep led by five entering the fourth quarter. Dylynn Groves (13 points) buried a 3 to start the fourth and Ryan Jackson's layup put it to double digits. NC chipped away, and Isaac Pratt's 3-pointer with 3 minutes left made it 54-49.
The score stayed that way until there were 19.1 seconds left, with G-Prep exhausting the shot clock and NC missing 3-pointers. Jacori Ervin was charged with an intentional foul for hauling down Groves on a offensive rebound attempt and was then assessed a technical foul.
Groves missed his free throws for the foul, but Sandberg hit two for the technical for a seven-point lead. He added a pair from the line next time down to ice it.
"They came out strong in the fourth quarter, hit a couple shots," Christy said. "We weathered the storm and hit our free throws down the stretch."
Christy, at 6-foot-7, was left to battle with the 6-11 Jacori and 6-8 JuJu Ervin all night.
"He did such a good job of attacking the rim," McIntyre said of his post player. "Keeping his eyes up, trying to go strong and not fading away. There's some real determination with Nate's game lately. He's definitely growing. Earlier in this season he wouldn't have done that. But he's becoming way more aggressive and improving at the right time."
The game started with a technical foul on NC for dunking during pregame, and Sandberg hit both free throws. The Bullpups got out to a 7-2 lead and NC coach Robert Sacre asked for a timeout.
Williams completed a four-point play midway through the quarter to give the Wolfpack their first lead. They went on a 13-0 run, Williams scored 13 in the quarter and NC led 19-9.
"We knew they were going to go on their runs," Christy said. "Coach McIntyre told us: Just meet them early, try to push them out and beat them to their spots and do our work early."
Groves hit from 3 for G-Prep midway through the second quarter to trim the deficit to five, and a 15-6 run drew G-Prep within one with 2 1/2 minutes left in the half. Back-to-back buckets by Groves and Christy put G-Prep up 33-29 at halftime.
Christy had five points in the early part of the third quarter as the Bullpups opened an eight-point lead. Daniels answered with a pair of buckets in the paint and G-Prep led 44-39 heading into the fourth quarter.
"You just don't see teams, the challenges from high school teams that North Central presents with the size, the athleticism," McIntyre said. "It's absolutely a building block and gives us some confidence going into the postseason."