TUMWATER – As Jayden Croft and his Tumwater teammates walked back into the Black Hills gymnasium from the locker room to reunite with their fans, their heart rates began returning to normal. For some, the atmosphere and the final seconds of the annual crosstown rivalry game between Tumwater and Black Hills felt like a movie.
“There was no other way,” Croft said. “There was nothing that could make it any bigger.”
The game was an instant classic, as the visiting Thunderbirds clinched the final playoff spot into next weekend’s 2A Southwest District IV tournament with a wild 68-66 victory over Black Hills, ending the Wolves’ season.
“It was a pretty fun environment,” Croft said. “At the end we were jumping around with all of our fans storming the court. It’s a huge game. We’re going to the playoffs now.”
Regardless of the outcome in Tuesday’s regular-season finale against River Ridge, Tumwater (6-12 overall, 4-7 2A Evergreen Conference) will be the league’s No. 5 seed and play EvCo regular-season champion W.F. West, the No. 1 seed, at 7 p.m. Feb. 9 in Chehalis to begin the double-elimination tournament.
“We know we belong (in the playoffs),” Tumwater coach Curtis Medved said.
Tumwater led 54-47 entering the fourth quarter, but the game came down to the final minute. Its largest lead was 36-27 in the closing minutes of the second half, but Black Hills never went away.
David Cooper and Josiah Warner, the T-Birds’ leading scorers entering the final quarter, were held without a field goal in the final eight minutes.
But who stepped up for Tumwater? Jaimie Bryant.
The big man, at 6-foot-6, used his football frame and muscled his way inside for eight points – all in the fourth quarter – on a perfect 4-for-4 shooting. Foul trouble limited Bryant’s time on the court for most of the game. He went to the bench with three fouls 10 seconds into the second half after Tumwater had a 38-32 lead at the break.
Medved called Bryant’s fourth-quarter play “monumental.”
“He stepped up when we needed him to,” Medved said.
Free throws by Black Hills guard Drew Devoe cut Tumwater’s lead to 59-57 and a bucket by Zach Grate, who finished with 12 points, made it a tie game at 59-all. Black Hills cut Tumwater’s lead to three points three times inside 3 minutes.
With Tumwater’s lead at 68-65 with 21.1 seconds to go, Black Hills had chances to tie the game after Tumwater missed the front-end of 1-and-1 free throws, and then again with 13.1 seconds left.
The second time, following a miss by David Cooper, Devoe was fouled shooting a 3-pointer with 4.8 seconds left with Black Hills still trailing by three points.
He missed the first, hit the second and missed the third, and Tumwater’s Zach Delucco was fouled on the rebound with 2.7 seconds. He missed the front end of a 1-and-1, and Jacob Burgess’ desperation three-quarter length shot as time expired fell short.
Burgess finished with a game-high 22 points, and Cooper and Warner finished with 14 and 10 points, respectively, to lead Tumwater.
The game had more on the line than the traditional rivalry game. Black Hills was one game back of Tumwater in the win column, and the win would’ve tied the two teams at four league wins apiece.
The Wolves season ended with the loss at 5-15. They team hadn’t recorded a win since Dec. 14.Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473