Whatever doubt there was that North Thurston High School deserved mentioning among the top basketball programs in Class 3A this season, there’s no doubt now.
Three players scored in double figures for the fifth-ranked Rams, and they outlasted a physical Spanaway Lake team in a 67-64 thriller Saturday night at Puyallup High School.
North Thurston advances to the quarterfinals of the 3A West Central/Southwest bidistrict tournament with the statement win, and clinches its first trip to the state playoffs since 2012.
In what was perhaps the biggest test North Thurston has faced so far this season, but the Rams endured a physically and emotionally draining contest that saw the lead change 16 times.
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The two programs were tied six times, and there was never a margin greater than eight points.
“It got going, and then it just became a war,” North Thurston coach Tim Brown said. “A lot of banging, guys hitting the floor all night long. I’m just really proud of the kids. They did a heck of a job.”
Spanaway Lake took control for the majority of the first quarter, and was propelled throughout the contest by Divante Moffitt’s consistent shooting. Moffitt finished with a game-high 30 points for the Sentinels.
Moffitt’s basket just before the end of the first quarter capped a 14-5 run that gave Spanaway Lake a five-point advantage.
But the Rams came firing back on three unanswered buckets. The lead didn’t swing more than two possessions either way during the final six minutes of the half.
Spanaway Lake appeared headed into the break with the lead until the Rams forced a turnover in final seconds, and Tim Tenkley drained a 3-pointer from about 35 feet at the buzzer.
North Thurston took a 36-35 advantage, and a momentum swing, into the half.
“We wanted to slow down the game, run our offense, and slow them down because they like to push the ball,” Spencer said. “In the first half, they did what they wanted to do, but we started slowing them down in the second half, and that’s how we took the lead.”
Tenkley, who scored 17 points, hit another 3-pointer late in the third to give the Rams an eight-point advantage, but Spanaway Lake’s Jordan Garner answered before the quarter expired to cut the margin back to 51-46.
Three more 3-pointers in the fourth quarter lifted North Thurston to the win. Jeremy Spencer, who scored a team-high 23 points for the Rams, nailed a triple with 4:10 to play to give North Thurston the final lead of the game.
He hit another 3-pointer from the corner with 2:19 to play to push the lead back to eight points.
“We always like to look in and then go out,” Spencer said. “We looked in, we tried. We either got fouled or missed a shot, but kept going to it. They started putting two guys on us, and we kicked it out and got the open look.”
Spanaway Lake threatened in the final minute, capitalizing on missed free throws and turnovers by the Rams, but ran out of time to climb all the way back.
Moffitt hit a 3-pointer on the game’s final play, but time expired before North Thurston in-bounded the ball.
Clay Christian added 17 points for the Rams, while Isaiah Turner had 15 for the Sentinels.
“We’re very happy,” Spencer said. “We knew it was going to be a great season, and we came together, and are doing what we wanted to do.”
North Thurston (21-1) moves on to play Kelso (18-4) in the semifinals at 7:45 p.m. Thursday at Foss High School.
“We’re going to keep trying to win,” Brown said. “We’re going to practice for three days and try to get better. The next goal is to try to get to the district championship, and we keep going from there.”
NO. 5 NORTH THURSTON
SL – Gordon 3, Moffitt 30, Turner 15, Garner 5, Williams 8
NT – Spencer 23, Stone 8, Wallace 2, Tenkley 17, Christian 17