T.J. Mickelson isn’t exactly sure when he got the green light in Friday’s win over Central Kitsap.
But it was probably five seconds into the game, when Chris Schnellman tipped him the ball, and he got a quick layup.
That ignited a record-breaking performance by the Capital High School senior, who scored 39 points — including a school-record 10 3-pointers — to lift Capital to an 84-52 win over Central Kitsap.
“In warmups, I could kind of feel the stroke there,” Mickelson said. “I think after I got my layup, then my 3 in the first quarter, I kind of felt it.
Never miss a local story.
“When a shooter is feeling good, he just kind of knows it.”
Mickelson knew it. His coach Brian Vandiver and his teammates knew it. And the roaring crowd lining the bleachers of Capital High School knew it.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Vandiver said. “Never in high school basketball a second half like that.”
Capital never trailed after Mickelson’s opening bucket and walloped Central Kitsap at both ends of the floor to clinch at least a share of the inaugural Class 3A South Sound Conference title.
The Cougars (15-2, 10-1 3A SSC) will be the No. 1 seed out of the league and host the No. 6 seed out of the Pierce County League in the first round of the 3A West Central/Southwest bidistrict tournament, which begins Feb. 8.
The last time Capital won a league title was in the 3A Narrows League in 2008. This could be the fourth league title the Cougars have won in the program’s 41-year history.
Capital needs one more win — over North Thurston or Gig Harbor — to capture the title outright.
“It’s a big deal for us,” Capital guard Chris Penner said.
Especially considering that last year at this time, the Cougars finished in the 3A Narrows basement with a 5-15 record.
“They bought in to what we wanted to do,” Vandiver said of his players. “They worked their tails off in the offseason. We won a lot of games this summer. Even before we had T.J., we won a lot of games and guys believed in themselves.
“When he came into the fold, it was amazing how seamless the transition was for everybody involved. Our players loved him immediately, he loved them.”
Mickelson, even in his first season with Capital, appreciated the magnitude of the win.
“It’s special,” Mickelson said. “We knew Central Kitsap is a tough team. … Our main goal was to come out and play hard. It was falling, and it was a big night.”
The biggest of his career, which spanned three years at Black Hills before he transferred to Capital this season.
“I knew they had a lot of pieces, and I knew coming in with my abilities, I could really get Chris Penner his open shots, my brother (Matt Mickelson) had 19 (on Wednesday) night,” T.J. Mickelson said.
“We have a lot of weapons, so I know that I can find my teammates and score when I need to. It’s special. I knew it was going to be a pretty fun year.”
This game just might be the biggest highlight for Mickelson, who is averaging 14.2 points per game and is the Cougars’ proven leader at point guard.
“He’s a special player, and he’s a very unselfish player,” Vandiver said. “He scored two points on Wednesday. He scores when he needs to, and when he doesn’t, he distributes the ball.”
On Friday night, though, Vandiver told Mickelson to just do his thing.
Mickelson made two 3-pointers apiece in the first and second quarters — his first coming at the four minute, 56-second mark.
He drilled a long triple over two Central Kitsap defenders as the first half expired, giving Capital a 47-19 lead.
He made three apiece in the third and fourth quarters, capping his record-breaking performance by dribbling around a Schnellman screen and pulling up for a deep 3-pointer in front of Capital’s howling student section.
It rattled in with 4:43 to play to give the Cougars a 76-41 lead.
“Any night he can do that, but that was amazing,” Penner said.
Penner contributed 12 points for Capital, while Schnellman had 10. Dylan McConnell led Central Kitsap with 16.
Mickelson’s performance, paired with Capital’s sturdy defense — which held Central Kitsap to 18-of-44 shooting (40.9 percent) and forced 18 turnovers — led to just what the Cougars were looking for.
“They wanted to get the league championship tonight,” Vandiver said. “We didn’t want to go into the weekend with it still hanging in the balance.
“They have been pretty focused the whole year, and when they’re playing hard like that and sharing the ball, we’re a pretty good team.”
Capital hosts North Thurston on Tuesday and travels to Gig Harbor on Thursday to round out its regular season.
Mickelson said this win gives Capital momentum, but the Cougars haven’t lost sight of what’s next.
“That’s two very tough games coming up, so we’ve got to focus,” Mickelson said.
Central Kitsap 9 10 22 11_52
Capital 23 24 18 19_84
CK – Archer 9, Conley 3, McMinds 2, Secrest 4, McGee 6, Telemaque 7, Upshaw 2, Washington 4, McConnell 16
C – TJ Mickelson 39, Matt Mickelson 4, Penner 12, Stock 2, Bertelli 3, Layton 5, Collard 4, Richardson 3, Schnellman 10, Erickson 2