Family isn’t just a word written on the back of Timberline High School’s basketball jerseys.
It is an atmosphere this group of Blazers players and their coaches created this season, and it is what propelled Timberline to a fourth-place finish in the Class 3A state tournament — the program’s best finish since 1981.
The fifth-ranked Blazers (22-7) outlasted a tireless Kelso team in overtime to win their season finale, 64-59, Saturday morning at the Tacoma Dome.
Erik Stevenson, who leaves as the all-time leading scorer at Timberline and in Thurston County history, sat on the bench with his face buried in his jersey after the emotional win that caps his incredible four-year career.
“It was all those hours we spent together in the offseason, in the weight room, at 5:30 a.m. before school starts conditioning in the gym,” said Stevenson, a Wichita State signee. “All of those moments led up to this one.
“The big thing was the word on the back of our jerseys — ‘family.’ We play as a family, and that’s how we got this win.”
Each of Timberline’s trio of senior guards finished in double figures, led by Stevenson’s team-high 21 points and 14 rebounds. Casson Rouse added 17 points, while point guard Eli Morton had 10.
All three finished the four-game tournament averaging in double figures scoring.
Stevenson had a tournament-high 29.5 points per game, while adding 9 rebounds, 3.8 steals and 1.8 blocks across the four appearances.
Rouse averaged 15.5 points, 5 rebounds and 3.3 assists, while Morton chipped in 11.2 points, 3.5 assists per game.
“They had to work together, which was awesome,” Timberline coach Allen Thomas said. “That’s what meant the most.”
Timberline quickly built an early lead, which reached as many as 13 points in the first quarter, and Rouse nailed a long 3-pointer late in the second to keep the Blazers in front, 31-24, at the break.
But, Timberline spent much of the second half trying to hold Kelso off, as the sixth-ranked Hilanders gradually clawed their way back in.
“No matter how much we punched them, they just kept coming every time,” Thomas said.
Shaw Anderson, who scored a game-high 29 points and pulled down nine rebounds for Kelso, helped fuel a 9-0 run at the end of the fourth quarter. Jon Bowlby finished with 10 points.
Though they never led, the Hilanders had an opportunity to put the game away with 0.6 seconds remaining on the clock.
Riley Noah — playing in his first game of the tournament after undergoing an emergency appendectomy last Sunday — drew a foul underneath the hoop, and went to the line with Kelso trailing, 52-51.
His first free throw attempt rimmed out, but he made the second to send the game into overtime.
“Once they hit that free throw at the end to tie it, we easily could have folded,” Stevenson said. “We stayed composed, and we ended up coming out on top. We hit some big shots in overtime, and got some big stops.”
Timberline took the lead for good on a pull-up basket from the left side by Rouse with 1:49 remaining in the extra period.
Morton and Jamin Faalogo added baskets two more baskets in the final 1:05, pushing Timberline’s lead to five points with 27 seconds to go.
Anderson was fouled on a 3-point attempt at the other end, and hit two of his three free throw attempts to cut the lead back to one possession, and put Kelso in position to tie it up again with 6.2 remaining.
But, Stevenson threw a lob pass to Hunter Campau, who was immediately fouled with 3.3 on the clock. The junior sunk both free throws to seal the game, and Stevenson walked down the court with his fist up in triumph.
“We set our goals to play on the last day, and win our last game of the season,” Morton said. “We all came together and did that.”
The Blazers were presented with their trophy at midcourt following the final buzzer, and each player held up four fingers as they cemented their place in history.
“It was all about staying focused,” Rouse said. “When we lost to Lincoln (in the quarterfinals), we couldn’t put our heads down. We couldn’t give up.
“We were still playing for something. That trophy means a lot to us.”
Stevenson, who broke the modern tournament scoring record set by Michael Porter Jr. — a future NBA lottery pick who muscled Nathan Hale to an undefeated 3A title last year — in a consolation game against Wilson on Friday, was presented with a basketball following the game.
Stevenson smashed six modern tournament records — which includes all games played in the current format from 2011 to present — for total points (118), field goals made (43), field goals attempted (88), 3-point field goals made (13), 3-point field goals attempted (36) and steals (15).
“He did his thing and I am speechless about what this kid is capable of,” Thomas said. “Hopefully the world will know who he is — quickly.
“He will not ever back down from competition. He will continue to improve. His career is just starting.”
Stevenson finished two points shy of breaking the all-time tournament scoring record set by Andre Winston Jr. of Lakes (119 points) in 2010, but said a final victory with his team was what mattered most.
“That’s bigger than any record,” Stevenson said. “I wanted to go out on a win, make history and be remembered forever.”
He certainly made a mark. He never missed a high school game, finishing his career with 1,861 points in 106 appearances — a 17.6 points per game career average — and helping the Blazers reach the state playoffs all four seasons.
Stevenson also set program records at Timberline for single-game (45 points) and season (717) scoring, and produced averages of 24.7 points, 7.1 rebounds, 3 assists, 2.9 steals and 1.7 blocks per game as a senior.
“There’s a reason why I put up these numbers,” Stevenson said. “There’s a reason why I’m going where I’m going. It’s only going to translate into college.
“I don’t back down from anybody. I don’t back down from any moment. That’s showed my whole career. It’s all about mentality and work ethic.”
Stevenson and Thomas shared a long embrace when Saturday’s final game ended.
“I told him I love him, I told him he’s legendary,” Thomas said. “I told him no one has seen a performance like this the last four days. I think he proved he’s in the talks as one of the best players in the state.”
But, even with all of the individual accolades the past four seasons, Stevenson said he wouldn’t be able to score the way he did, or help Timberline reach a 74-32 record (.698 winning percentage) in his career without contribution from his teammates.
Morton averaged 12.7 points, 4.7 assists, 3 rebounds and 2.8 steals this season. Rouse finished with 9.9 points, 3.3 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game.
“I’m so happy for those guys,” Thomas said. “They both are going to be college players, and they’re going to be successful.”
Thomas said he took a minute in the locker room after the game to soak up what his team accomplished — a fourth-place finish behind two Metro League teams and Lincoln, and the first Timberline trophy in 37 years.
“It’s all about the experience together off the court,” he said. “The times we went to the movies or bowling, those times matter. They build chemistry and togetherness. It’s bigger than basketball.”
“It’s really a family,” Rouse said. “We have it on the back of our jerseys for a reason. We love to bring the trophy back to Timberline.”
NO. 6 KELSO
NO. 5 TIMBERLINE
K – Kinch 6, Tack 2, Gamble 3, Anderson 29, Bowlby 10, R. Noah 7, P. Noah 2
T – Rouse 17, Campau 8, Morton 10, Stevenson 21, Faalogo 6, Joubert 2