OLYMPIA - The postgame congratulatory cheers, hugs - and even cupcakes - didn't look plausible for the Olympia Bears after the first half against Mount Tahoma on Friday night.
For the opening 16 minutes, the Bears didn’t have much of a pulse. They shot a chilly 6-for-29 (21 percent) from the field, had a season-low 15 first-half points, and trailed by 16. It was the first time this season the Bears faced a large first-half deficit.
But it was the way Olympia roared back to life in the second half that made its 51-45 victory over the Thunderbirds even more special – a thrilling come-from-behind win that gave the Bears their first boys basketball league title since 1999 and the No. 1 seed into the 4A West Central District III tournament.
“You dream about playing in games like this, and being able to hang a banner up in the rafters that says ‘League Champions,’ ” said Olympia senior guard Jamey Smith, who had all eight of his points in the second half, “ and to be part of something like that. It means a lot.”
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Olympia’s last league title came in 1999 when that team, coached by John Kiley, won the Rivers League and the District IV titles, and went on to finish eighth at the 3A state tournament.
Olympia (17-2 overall, 12-1 4A Narrows League) trailed at halftime, 31-15, as Mount Tahoma, which will be the No. 3 team from the Narrows League at district, hit four 3-pointers and went on a 15-4 run in the second quarter to take the double-digit lead into halftime.
Olympia coach Luke Salme had simple words for his players: make plays, get defensive stops and gain confidence on offense.
“We dug ourselves a hole, but we knew we could get of it,” said senior Alex Weber-Brader, who led all scorers with 22 points. “We were down, we weren’t making shots, and we stepped it up on the second half.”
The Bears started chipping away at the lead, starting with settling in on a match-up zone defense and getting big plays from seniors Smith, Weber-Brader and Kyle Steen. Olympia’s zone forced more shots from the perimeter by the Thunderbirds, which led to defensive stops.
“You piece together those rebounds and make a few buckets, you start to believe again,” Salme said.
Olympia outscored Mount Tahoma in the third quarter, 13-2, and cut the deficit to 33-28 heading into the fourth quarter. Smith made back-to-back field goals, and Dominick Franks gave Olympia its first lead since the first field goal of the game – 35-33 with 5 minutes, 27 seconds remaining.
With the score tied at 41 with 1:14 left, Steen had a clutch steal and breakaway layup that gave the Bears the lead for good. It was one of two steals in a 30-second span for Steen, who also had eight points.
Olympia outscored Mount Tahoma 36-14 in the third and fourth quarters. Xavier Bazile led the T-Birds with 14 points, and Johntrel Lee had 11 – all in the first half.
Weber-Brader had 14 of his 22 points in the second half.
“We’ll remember this for a long time,” Salme said. “And hopefully, we’re not done yet.”