LACEY - With half of the Class 2A Evergreen Conference boys basketball schedule in the books, it's hard to find a clear-cut favorite to win the league title.
But after River Ridge’s 66-60 victory over North Thurston on Friday night, the Hawks seem to have every intention of gunning for their fourth straight league crown. And with six games remaining in the always-tough EvCo, River Ridge coach Jeremy Landram knows it’ll be a battle for first place, but he hopes his team rides the momentum from Friday’s big win the rest of the way.
“It’s definitely a league that it will come down to the end,” Landram said. “Tonight was a good game to get a separation. It’s a good feeling we have going into the second half.”
Brad Wallace scored 14 points, including four 3-pointers, to lead the Hawks. Charlie Conner chipped in with 13 points, and Nile Norwood scored 10.
River Ridge and Tumwater are tied atop the EvCo standings with one loss apiece. They have a two-game lead over Aberdeen, Black Hills, Chehalis, and North Thurston – all with three league losses.
Tumwater defeated River Ridge on Tuesday, 58-43, as the Hawks shot a mere 12 of 61 from the floor and had 22 turnovers on the road.
It was a different story Friday at home.
The Hawks (9-5 overall, 5-1 EvCo) shot 45 percent in the first half, connecting on 14 of 31 field goals – and nailing five 3-pointers – to take a 36-26 lead at halftime.
The double-digit advantage began to vanish in the third quarter when North Thurston started going inside to junior Ben Broeker, who had 11 of his 15 points in the second half.
The Rams (11-3, 3-3) went on an 11-4 run and closed the gap to 53-51 on a pair of Landon Rushton free throws with 4 minutes, 5 seconds left in the game, but that was a close as they got.
River Ridge, which missed 12 free throws Tuesday against Tumwater, hit eight free throws in the final 2:35 to seal the win.
Coming off a season-best 35 points in Tuesday’s 82-61 win over Black Hills, Rushton led all scorers with a game-high 26 points but had just one field goal in the second half. Fifteen of his 26 points came from the free-throw line. Point guard Matt Reid had eight of his 10 points in the second half.
“Our guards did a phenomenal job on them,” Landram said of defending Rushton and Reid. “They’re two really good players that have an influence on their team, and you have to take them out if you want to win.”