Bellarmine Prep boys basketball coach Bernie Salazar could be called the eternal optimist, given that three weeks ago his Lions were in deep trouble when it came to the possibility of reaching the postseason.
Was he sure they would pull out of it?
“I was confident,” Salazar said with a big grin. “Do I have a choice? You hope for the best.”
But best is right now for the Lions. Winner of six games in a row, Bellarmine Prep stamped its ticket to the West Central District playoffs with a 70-56 victory over fast-tempo Yelm in Tacoma.
The Lions (11-9, 7-5 4A Narrows League) will play South Kitsap (14-6, 7-5) on Saturday at Stadium High School for the league’s No. 2 seed to district – with the winner earning a home game. Yelm (11-9, 5-7) just missed reaching the postseason by one game.
There is a reason the Tornados run at warp speed — they don’t have traditional banger-type inside players. Bellarmine Prep does with Rex Bodoia (23 points, 19 rebounds) and Will Wolf (12 points, 17 rebounds), who really hurt Yelm in the most crucial moments.
Yelm was in trouble early and trailed, 35-21, late in the first half. Bodoia was responsible for giving Bellarmine Prep the early cushion with his 10 first-quarter points.
Yet, as efficient as the Lions were in the first half, shooting 14-for-26, the Tornados charged back to start the third quarter.
They scored on seven of their first nine possessions, capped by Chad Davis’ short jumper, to cut their deficit to 42-39 at the 5:03 mark.
But Bodoia answered with a putback for the Lions, and Wolf scored on the team’s next trip to make it 46-39.
Yelm made one more charge late in the fourth quarter. Elijah Fuller capped a 6-2 run with a 3-pointer with 2:55 left to trim the margin to 60-55.
But a steal and a basket by Mar’kese Jackson, who added two free throws on the Lions’ next possession, made it 64-55 with 1:34 left.
Fuller had 17 points for Yelm, and Christian Davis had a team-high 20.