Down by double digits, its usual high-octane offense reduced to a sputter, the River Ridge High School boys basketball team was facing a situation it had not been in all season.
Issiah Scott scored all 10 of his points in an offensive burst in the third quarter. Kelle Sanders came off the bench to lead all scorers with 13 and River Ridge rallied to defeat Renton, 71-62, in the quarterfinals of the 2A West Central District III basketball tournament.
“I think it was just a matter of settling our guys down (in the second half),” River Ridge coach John Barbee said about the win. “That’s not a position we’ve been in all year, down that big at half time, but that’s basketball, that’s this time of year. I am really proud of these guys.”
The Hawks (20-1) advance to the semifinals on February 17 at Foss High School where they will play Liberty, which knocked off Clover Park, 63-52. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:45 p.m.
Regardless of the outcome, River Ridge will continue to the state round of 16 and can finish no lower than the district’s fourth seed. The Hawks, champions of the 2A South Puget Sound League, won last year’s district crown, defeating Washington, 67-65, in title game.
Fife (2009-10) was the last team to win back-to-back WCD III championships.
“Now, you’re in (the region round of state) and that’s nice. We’re still trying to move up though,” Barbee said. “Our goal was to win districts as well. It was win league and we took care of that. The next milestone is districts and our next test is going to be Liberty. The nice thing about it is we get a couple days to get ready.”
Barbee chalked up the Hawks’ uncharacteristically low-scoring first half against the Indians to being “shell shocked.”
It has been more than two months since River Ridge last experienced defeat. The Hawks last and only setback this year came in a 54-50 non-league loss to 3A Auburn Riverside.
Since then it’s been one blowout win after another, but Renton looked to change that as they led 30-20 midway through the second quarter and 32-25 at the intermission.
“I think it was just nerves,” Scott said about the first half. “(Renton) was playing hard. They’re a good team. They wanted it. Once we got out of the nervousness of the first half, we just started playing.”
LaBrandon Price, one of five River Ridge players to score in double figures, gave the Hawks a much-needed jolt before the break, hitting a mid-range jumper as time expired in the first half to cut the deficit to seven points.
The momentum of that shot seemed to carry right over to the second half where River Ridge quickly retook the lead by opening the third quarter on a 10-0 run.
“I thought Renton did a really good job in the first half of making us extend our offense. Instead of us shooting at the 3-point line, we were shooting at 25 feet,” Barbee said. “I think we were 1 for 13 in the first half from 3s. Half time was just a matter of re-setting, getting back to what we know. We just needed to do the little things, taking care of the basketball and getting into the heart of that zone. The second half, that first 3 minutes, that’s what we are used to seeing.”
Tre’vonne Dorfner, Kobe Key and Mac Armstrong provided the offensive punch to kick start the second half for the Hawks before Scott heated up, hitting a pair of 3-pointers to help River Ridge close out the third quarter on a 12-2 run.
“We’ve been very consistent all season long,” said Barbee, whose squad has scored 70 or more points in 20 of 21 games this year. “We have five guys that average double figures in scoring and another guy that’s right at 8 or 9. That’s us. We have balance.”
And that was once again on display as the Indians as Key Kobe scored 12 points, Price 11 and Armstrong 10 to join Sanders and Scott in double figures.
“We just have fun playing with each other. We like seeing each other do well,” Scott said. “I’m glad we experienced a game like this. We can learn from it.”
The Hawks parlayed last year’s district title into a third-place finish at the state tournament – a placing they hope to trump this season.
“I think we’re confident. We were confident last year, but this year it’s extreme,” Scott said. “I still think we’re targeting everyone. Everyone says we’re the ones with the target on our backs, but I think it’s the other way another.”