LACEY - At this point in the season, every game is a must-win for many teams in the Class 2A Evergreen Conference.
Whether it’s for a higher playoff seed or to increase the chances of grabbing one of the final berths into the District IV tournament, each game is crucial.
North Thurston’s 67-54 boys basketball victory over Centralia on Tuesday night, combined with Tumwater’s 69-57 win against Aberdeen, allowed the Rams to clinch a spot in the District IV tournament, which begins Feb. 12.
Exactly which seed the Rams will get is still up in the air with three regular-season games remaining.
“This (win) got our momentum going,” said junior guard Landon Rushton, who led the Rams with 26 points. “It got our confidence back up. Now, we have to go into Tumwater and do the same.”
North Thurston (5-4 EvCo), Chehalis (5-4) and Black Hills (4-4) are bunched up in the middle of the league standings, and they’re all looking up at league-leaders Tumwater and River Ridge.
Chehalis has beaten North Thurston both times this season, but North Thurston beat Black Hills on Jan. 11. Black Hills was idle Tuesday, so North Thurston holds a half-game lead over the Wolves.
Still, there are chances for North Thurston (13-4 overall) to better its playoff picture when the Rams face Tumwater (Friday), Black Hills (Feb. 1) and River Ridge (Feb. 3) in their final regular-season games.
“Win or lose, we want to be playing our best basketball right now,” North Thurston coach Tim Brown said. “That’s our focus, to get better at the right time and get hot at the right time.”
Tuesday’s outcome certainly was what the Rams wanted, and it was a different type of game from when the teams first met on Jan. 4 – an 80-48 North Thurston victory.
North Thurston had a double-digit lead for the majority of the game Tuesday, including a spurt in the third quarter that pushed the Rams’ lead to 54-41 going into the fourth quarter. Rushton scored 12 of his team’s 19 points in that quarter, including two steals that led to lay-ins.
But Centralia (2-15 overall, 0-9 EvCo), thanks to the play of James Green, wasn’t done just yet.
The Tigers cut the deficit to 60-52 with 3 minutes, 34 seconds left in the game, but that’s as close as they got. Green had 20 of his game-high 27 points in the second half, including burying 4 of 5 from 3-point range.
A three-point play by Ben Broeker and a crowd-pleasing alley-oop dunk by Eric Wilson on a pass from Rushton put the lead back into double figures for good. Broeker and Wilson finished with 10 and nine points, respectively.
“We knew they’d be better,” Brown said. “We’re not necessarily pleased with the performance, but we’re pleased with the ‘W.’ ”
Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473 firstname.lastname@example.org