It was fitting, in a basketball game where so many of the principal players were not high school seniors, that sophomore Chris Penner played the most heroic role of all.
Penner, the Capital Cougars’ leading scorer, scored eight fourth-quarter points, including a dagger of a 15-foot jump shot and two sealing free throws as the Cougars printed a ticket to the state Class 3A tournament with a tense 58-53 victory over North Thurston Saturday afternoon at Capital.
“We try as a team not to get too high or too low,” said Penner, who finished with 26 points. “We just needed a basket at the end.”
Capital (22-3) will play Lincoln next weekend in the state tournament’s regional round. North Thurston, after a strong run in the West Central/Southwest district, finished its season at 14-11.
“They don’t get rattled,” Capital coach Brian Vandiver said of his Cougars. “They have an awesome ability to zone in on what they have to do.”
Penner opened fourth-quarter scoring with a stop-and-pop jumper that gave his team a 42-39 lead. The Rams, however, scored the next seven points to go up 46-42 on a hanger in the lane by junior Jeremy Spencer.
In this game of small surges, Capital got two baskets from Matt Mickelson in a 6-0 run that earned a 48-46 lead.
Junior Jack Collard broke a 50-50 tie with a rebound basket, and the Cougars never trailed again. Clay Christian drove hard to the rim for a basket that got the Rams within 55-53 with 31 seconds left, and that was Thurston’s last gasp.
“Give Capital credit,” North Thurston coach Tim Brown said. “They outplayed us down the stretch.”
Grant Erickson, a 6-foot-5 sophomore, had an active first quarter and scored five points as the Cougars took a 14-13 lead at period’s end.
Capital went up 19-13 early in the second quarter on a 3-pointer by Penner, who had 11 first-half points. Christian nailed a 3-pointer with 30 seconds left in the half to hand the Rams a 26-25 lead at the break.
In a third quarter in which neither team could claim a lead larger than three points, Capital led at its end, 40-39. Penner had six points in the frame, and Christian, mostly a nonfactor in the first half with five points, asserted himself on drives to the hoop for six points.
Christian finished with 16 hard-earned points to lead North Thurston. Spencer, a junior, added 10.
Chris Schnellman was a force on the boards for Capital and knocked in 10 points. Erickson finished with 8 points.
“They’re warriors, they really are,” Vandiver said of the way his team responded when its best player, TJ Mickelson, went down with an injury before the postseason. “You can feel sorry, or rise up. Our guys rose up.”
Timberline 55, Spanaway Lake 54: The Blazers secured third place in a narrow win that saw senior Tariq Romain hit the clutch free throws needed to put Timberline just out of reach.
“Tariq Romain ended up chilling the game with free throws down the stretch to put us up four,” said Timberline head coach Allen Thomas. “They ended up making a 3 at the end to make it one.”
That last shot was enough to bring the Sentinels just shy of tying the game up to force an overtime.
“Down the stretch it went back and forth,” said Thomas. “Both teams had a chance to get reserves in to get some time.”
Wilson 70, Timberline 57: In a game that saw the Rams pull away in the third quarter behind sophomore Hope Lalau-Byrd, Wilson beat out the Blazers to secure their place in state.
“It’s a breath of fresh air,” said Wilson head coach Michelle Birge. “It’s been a long week having to win these loser-out games, and I thought our girls did an amazing job getting over that hurdle.”
With the loss, Timberline’s season is now over.
“Timberline was an evenly matched team with us,” said Birge. “I know it came down to what team had more fuel in the tank and rose to the moment and not let that moment get the best of us.”
The Wilson team was up five going into the half and then saw Lalau-Byrd come out in the third ready to score.
“I thought Hope had an amazing game,” Birge said. “Hope went on a scoring tear all by herself in the third that gave us a big enough lead to make us comfortable.”
Hope scored 12 of her team’s 17 points in that quarter and finished with 16 points in the game.
“We just took what they were giving us,” Birge said. “You got some players who did some big things in a big game.”
One of these players was Josie Matz, who ended up getting 18 points, three rebounds and two assists in the game. Matz set a school record by becoming the first Wilson player to reach 1,625 points and 500 assists.
Capital 58, North Thurston 53
C: Mickelson 4, Penner 26, Layton 6, Collard 4, Schnellman 10, Erickson 8.
NT: Nielsen 2, Spencer 10, Salee 8, Stone 9, Wallace 3, Tenkley, Christian 16, Beatty 3.