Long bus rides are always considerably more enjoyable when you have some well-earned hardware in tow.
That was the case for the boys basketball teams at Tumwater and River Ridge and the girls squad at Black Hills. All three programs capped stellar seasons by placing at the Class 2A state tournament at the Yakima Valley SunDome.
River Ridge Hawks
The Hawks re-wrote several school records this year, including winning a program-best 24 games, going undefeated in 2A South Puget Sound League play and collecting consecutive trophies for the first time ever.
River Ridge’s 67-62 victory over Wapato secured the fourth-place trophy for the Hawks, who finished third a year ago at the state tournament. It’s the program’s fourth ever top 4 finish as River Ridge also claimed third place in both 2007 and 2009.
Led by the strong senior class of Mac Armstrong, Kobe Key, LaBrandon Price, Issiah Scott and Jaden White, the Hawks went 24-3 and won a record 16 straight games to earn the state’s top ranking by the end of the regular season.
Hopes of a state championship were dashed, however, during their first game in Yakima with a 69-59 quarterfinal loss to eventual state runner-up Shorecrest. A slow start and poor shooting performance combined with the dominant inside game of Shorecrest’s Philip Pepple in the second half, doomed the Hawks chances of advancing to the semifinals.
Key was the only Hawk to score in double figures, posting team-high 11 points, but it was too much Pepple down the stretch as the Scots’ 6-foot-8 sophomore scored 21 of his 23 points in the second half.
River Ridge wasted little time sulking about the defeat, coming back the next day to knock off Ellensburg, 64-50, in a loser-out contest. White scored 14 points, Key added 12 and Price scored 8 points and grabbed 8 rebounds for the Hawks.
Against Wapato, River Ridge trailed the Wolves 34-27 at the half and 48-45 after three quarters, but played its best quarter of the tournament in the final frame of the season, outscoring Wapato, 22-14, in the fourth en route to the season-ending victory.
Price closed out his high school career with 19 points, while Key and Scott both added 10 points against the Wolves.
Football may still be king at Tumwater, but this year’s senior class certainly secured a place on the royal court for the boys’ basketball program.
The Thunderbirds (18-8) claimed just their third trophy overall and first since 1998 with a fifth place finish at this year’s state tournament. Advancing to the state semifinals for the first time in 40 years, Tumwater just missed equally the best finish in school history by losing to Lynden, 54-52, in its season finale.
The T-Birds finished third at the 3A tournament in 1976, and if not for a late 3-pointer from Lynden’s Sterling Somers, Tumwater would have matched that mark.
Despite the season-ending loss, it was one high point after another for the T-Birds during their late push towards the postseason.
Weston Vandenhazel scored 23 points and fellow senior Spencer Dowers chipped in 13 to power Tumwater to a 58-57 overtime victory over Ellensburg in the quarterfinals. With the score tied at 57, senior Jacob Gibbons got a steal with 12 seconds to play in the extra session before being fouled and hitting the game-winning free throw.
Like it was with River Ridge, Shorecrest, which lost, 50-49, in the state title game to defending champion Clarkston, proved to also be the roadblock for the T-Birds as the Scots won the semifinal match-up 47-41.
It was a heart-breaking loss for Tumwater, which held Shorecrest scoreless in the third quarter before being outscored in the fourth, 17-6.
Vandenhazel once again paced the T-Birds, scoring 14 points and finishing with 11 rebounds, while Gibbons struck for 10 points.
A Cade Otton free throw put Tumwater up 52-48 against Lynden with 36 seconds remaining in the game, but Somers scored the game’s next five points, including his dramatic 3 to power the Lions to the win.
Black Hills Wolves
Black Hills followed up its conference and district championships by placing at the girls state tournament for the first time since 2008 by finishing sixth.
The Wolves missed 23 of the 24 shots they attempted from the field in the second half in their 50-28 defeat to Washougal in their season finale. Black Hills, which went 22-5, beat the Panthers, 49-44, during the district tournament.
Black Hills advanced to the trophy round with a 62-58 overtime victory over defending state champion Mark Morris in a loser-out game. Junior Emma Duff scored 26 points, including six in the overtime session, and added 10 rebounds for the Wolves.
Sophomore Lindsey Nurmi scored nine points and Patti Taylor scored eight for Black Hills.
The Wolves opened state tournament play by losing to Lynden, 59-48, in the quarterfinals. Duff scored a team-high 12 points, while Nurmi and freshman Maisy Williams both scored 11.
Black Hills also placed at the 2A tournament in 2008 (eighth), 2007 (sixth) and 1999 (second). The program’s only other placing came in the 3A ranks in 2003 when the Wolves finished third.