Life Christian Academy knows you can’t win a state title until you win that first 2B boys state tournament game.
The senior-heavy team removed all fear about a quarterfinal slip-up on Thursday, throttling Toledo, 76-48, in the Spokane Arena behind standout performances from Luke Lovelady and Eric Overgaard.
The relief by the coaches and players was notable.
“We have some seniors who have been in this situation the last two years and lost the first night,” coach Mark Lovelady said. “It was one of our goals to make sure we don’t lose tonight and step up, and we had seniors who stepped up big for us.”
Never miss a local story.
The experience of the last two years helped Life Christian savor the win briefly. On Friday at 5:30 p.m., the Eagles will play No. 12 Liberty of Spangle, which upended No. 3 Napavine, 68-60.
Life Christian topped Toledo by eight points in the district championship on Feb. 19, but struggled with the Indians’ press.
So the Eagles went back to the drawing board. And like last month, Toledo pushed multiple defenders past half-court in an effort to stifle the Eagles’ offensive flow early. Life Christian was quick to counter.
The Eagles came out of the gate with a 15-2 run, and led by 15 points at the end of the first quarter. The hot shooting continued as Life Christian shot 63 percent in the first half and led by 30 points at intermission.
“I feel like we handled their press very well,” Overgaard said. “Last time we were kind of shaky with it, but we got in the gym, worked on it, tweaked some stuff and that’s what really helped us.”
Toledo’s attempt to mitigate Life Christian’s size advantage came in the form of the trap, but the Eagles moved the ball and countered it easily.
An example: With around two minutes left in the first quarter, Anthony Kunitsa drew two defenders and dished the ball to CJ Kovavs, who found Overgaard for an open 3-pointer in the corner.
Luke Lovelady had six assists — five in the first half — to accompany his 19 points and eight boards. Sophomore forward Noah Robinson scored 18 points, Overgaard added 11 and Kunitsa had a double-double (10 points, 10 rebounds).
In the second half, Toledo’s Reece Wallace hit a 3-pointer in hopes of spurring some momentum. Luke Lovelady responded on the other end by hitting a 3-pointer from the corner to put the Eagles’ lead in a comfortable place, and the starters subbed out with four minutes to go.
To Luke Lovelady, this Life Christian team carries a different focus than in past years.
“We’ve just been locked in all year. I’ve been playing on a lot of teams, but this year we’re locked in,” he said. “I think we’re all ready to go all day, we were focused, we weren’t messing around all day.
“It’s a business trip.”
In the meantime, Life Christian will fine-tune and try not to look too far ahead.
“We’re taking it one game at a time,” Mark Lovelady said. “Last year, I felt like I did a poor job as a coach, looking at the bracket, seeing the path we had, and it was probably the easiest path to get to the state championship game. And, of course, we lose in the first round. So this year we just talk about taking it one game at a time.”
Almira Coulee Hartline 46, Tacoma Baptist 34: The error-prone Crusaders weren’t able to climb out of a 29-11 halftime deficit, and headed to the consolation bracket.
The Crusaders were led by Brooklyn Pascua, who had 12 points, and Rachel Vanliew, who had 11 rebounds. But the team coughed up 24 turnovers.
ACH’s Tiffany Boutain and Gabi Isaak combined for 24 points.
Tacoma Baptist will play No. 10 Neah Bay at 8 a.m. Friday.