The Black Hills High School boys basketball team is heading to the state playoffs for the first time in school history.

Senior Avery Armin scored 17 points and junior Justin Hicks added 12 as the No. 9 Wolves punched their ticket to the Class 2A state tournament at the Yakima SunDome with a 55-42 win over No. 16 Woodland in the regional round on February 29 at Tumwater High School.

Joining Black Hills at the 2A state tournament will be cross-town rival Tumwater, which knocked off No. 3 North Kitsap, 60-55, at regionals to secure the program’s first trip to state since 2016. 

Over in the 4A classification, Olympia will be heading to the Tacoma Dome following the Bears’ 69-46 win over Eastmont.

The Wolves (19-6) will open state on March 4 at 9:00 p.m. in a loser-out game against No. 8 Mountlake Terrace (18-7). The Hawks were the third-place team in the 2A/3A Wesco and are coming off a 59-55 loss to top-ranked Lynden at districts. The winner will play No. 7 Clarkston in the state quarterfinals.

Weston Ainsworth
Weston Ainsworth (No. 24) drives the baseline during the Wolves’ 55-42 win over Woodland. Photo credit: Grant Clark

“We were 3-17 my first year here,” Black Hills coach Jeff Gallagher said. “To go from that to winning back-to-back league titles to making it to state, it’s really been a cool process to be a part of.”

Woodland, which stunned 2A Greater Saint Helens League champion Columbia River and W.F. West at districts before losing to Tumwater in the championship game, battled Black Hills for three and a half quarters and was able to tie the contest at 39 with 5 minutes remaining before falling victim to a game-deciding 9-0 run by the Wolves, who had been 0-2 all-time at regionals, including last year’s 44-38 loss to Anacortes.

“Since the beginning of the year, we’ve talked a lot about getting back to this point and then getting beyond this point,” Gallagher said. “Having nine seniors certainly helps with that because they’re focused. They earned it and they deserve it.”

Justin Hicks
Junior Justin Hicks (No. 20) scored 12 points in the Wolves’ win over Woodland. Photo credit: Grant Clark

Tied at 22 at the half, Black Hills struggled to find its outside stroke for much of the contest, missing 24 out of its first 26 shots from long range. The Wolves were able to find just enough offense during a quick burst last in the fourth quarter, which was highlighted by a 3 from Hicks, to grab a 48-39 advantage with 2 1/2 minutes to play.

“We weren’t shooting the ball well, but our seniors just battled. They just don’t want this to end,” Gallagher said. “I thought our bench was big for us tonight. Evan Ellison came in and gave us huge minutes. Same with Zach Loveless. Guys who haven’t played that consistently all year and they came in and stepped up and made just huge plays for us down the stretch. Evan took two charges. Zach had some big deflections and rebounds.”

The Wolves also received six points from Zach Crumley, who was a first-team all-conference honoree along with Armin and Hicks, while Weston Ainsworth added five points.

Evan Ellison
Black Hills’ Evan Ellison picks up a foul as he drives the lane. Photo credit: Grant Clark

Tumwater (20-4) will take a five-game winning streak into the state tournament. The No. 6 T-Birds closed out the regular season with a 54-51 triumph over 2A Evergreen Conference champion Black Hills before capping its run toward a district championship with a 63-28 drubbing of Woodland in the title game.

Tumwater held a slim 27-26 lead over the North Kitsap at the intermission, but senior Ethan Dillon scored 15 of his team-high 19 points in the second half to lead the T-Birds to victory.

Damon Gaither, who was the EvCo MVP, pulled down 13 rebounds and scored six points.

Degan Hurley
Degan Hurley (No. 5) takes the ball to the rim during a key 9-0 run by the Wolves. Photo credit: Grant Clark

Due to its ranking, Tumwater avoids playing in a loser-out game with the win at regionals and will face the winner of No. 4 Lindbergh (23-3) and No. 12 Lakewood (15-9) on March 5.

Olympia is heading back to the 4A state tournament for the first time since 2011 after hammering No. 15 Eastmont by 23 points at regionals. Kai Johnson scored 18 points and Jackson Grant scored 17 as the No. 10 Bears improved their record to 20-6.

Ethan Gahm and Zack Swanson both scored eight points for Olympia, which is making just its second state playoff appearance in the 2000s.

The Bears will play No. 7 Auburn in a loser-out game on March 4. Tipoff is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. The Trojans, who lost to No. 2 Glacier Peak, 69-43, in the regional round, defeated Olympia, 53-49, in a consolation game at the West Central District tournament on February 19. 

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