Kelle Sanders has been there before.
Last season, Sanders was one of only three remaining players on River Ridge High School’s roster to travel to the Class 2A state tournament in Yakima.
On Tuesday, with the ninth-ranked Hawks one loss away from elimination in the 2A West Central District playoffs, Sanders’ experience and leadership paid off.
It has the past several games, River Ridge coach John Barbee said.
“He played the whole game, he didn’t come out,” Barbee said. “He played with a lot of energy.”
Sanders scored a team-high 19 points and added 15 rebounds as the Hawks pulled off a 56-42 win over Highline at Curtis High School in University Place.
“I’ve had to lead the team because nobody’s been there,” Sanders said. “I’ve got to be the guy to get everybody together, and tell them what we have to do to make it there.”
Sanders, Alex Coleman and Kolton Knox are the only three players on the Hawks’ roster that have significant playoff experience.
Those three also led River Ridge (17-8) in scoring against the Pirates.
Coleman, who has developed into River Ridge’s regular point guard, finished with 16 points — including three 3-pointers.
“He’s really the catalyst because the ball is in his hands a lot,” Barbee said.
Knox added another nine points — seven in the third quarter — and the Hawks were able to put together an early second-half run after trailing, 21-20, at the break.
“I think this is a classic state game,” Barbee said. “That’s what we talked about afterwards. It’s going to be possession by possession.
“You’ve got to be able to get stops. You’ve got to be able to score in the half court.”
River Ridge did both, and started to create a gap in the third quarter.
Sanders’ bucket on the opening possession gave the Hawks back the lead for good. River Ridge went on an 18-7 run to end the quarter up 38-28.
Sanders, who missed both games against Highline during the regular season — the Hawks lost twice — said the team talked about playing with more tenacity.
“We’ve got to come out from the jump,” Sanders said. “We’ve got to be ready from the jump ball. We can’t come out here slow, let them get ahead, and try to fight back.”
There was little fighting back Tuesday — more trying to hold a steady lead.
“I think they were focused,” Barbee said.
The Pirates never scored more than five times from the floor in a quarter, and were limited to seven points in the third.
Highline finished 15 of 52 shooting (28.8) percent, and squandered any chance of a comeback late with consecutive misses.
Mark Morris 77, Centralia 61: Hodges Bailey spun off 42 points for the Tigers, but it wasn’t enough to lift Centralia to a 2A Southwest District semifinal win at W.F. West High School in Chehalis.
Bailey — who also leads the area in scoring average — tied Lewis Lofton for Centralia’s single-game record with his performance, which included eight 3-pointers.
But the Monarchs shot 30 of 51 (58.8 percent) from the floor and hit 13 shots from beyond the perimeter to advance to Friday’s district title game.
Will Burghardt scored a team-high 27 points for the Monarchs, including six 3-pointers.
Mark Morris plays 3A Greater Saint Helen’s League rival, Woodland, at 8 p.m. Friday at Saint Martin’s University for the championship.
Centralia (15-8) plays Tumwater (17-5) in a loser-out game at 7 p.m. Thursday at W.F. West.
Timberline 61, Yelm 35: In a game filled with momentum shifts, the Blazers started strong which helped earn them the win over the Tornados in a 3A West Central/Southwest bi-district tournament elimination game.
“We just came out with full intensity,” said Timberline coach Sasha Matthews. “We scored 23 points in that first quarter and that really set the tone.”
Yelm only scored seven points in the first quarter, but was able to match the Blazers momentum in the second quarter.
“We had to get some of that momentum back in the third quarter but I felt the girls really wanted it because it was a loser out game,” said Matthews. “It comes down to heart and who wants it the most.”
Putting up strong performances for the Blazers was junior Keshara Romain, who scored 13 points along with Rayanna Dyas, Cadence Monti, and Kiara Brooks, who all scored 10 points apiece.
“I felt like they just came out and wanted it tonight,” said Matthews.
Staff writer Chase Hutchinson contributed to this report
Highline 8 13 7 14_42
River Ridge 13 7 18 18_56
H – Hood 20, Walker 3, Martinez 2, Shahzaad 3, Castenada 8, Burcham 6
RR – Coleman 16, Skipper-Brown 7, Washington 3, Knox 9, Sanders 19, Kennedy 2