LACEY - It's hard to imagine the postgame locker room speech coach Tom Kelly gave to his River Ridge players after Friday night's 2A girls District IV tournament opening-round game at home against North Thurston.
It wasn’t the performance he was hoping the defending state champions would begin the playoffs with, but he’ll take the win.
“I guess I should be happier,” Kelly said after River Ridge’s 63-41 victory over the Rams. “But I am happy with the win ... we have to get it together.”
In fact, it was an Evergreen Conference sweep in all of Friday’s opening-round games. Tumwater defeated Washougal, 55-12; Chehalis beat Mark Morris, 47-41, and the upset of the night came when Aberdeen, which needed a play-in game victory to make the district tournament, toppled Greater St. Helens League champion Woodland, 55-52. The four EvCo winners advance to the semifinals.
The win puts River Ridge (19-3) against Chehalis (16-5) in the semifinals at 7:45 p.m. Tuesday at a site to be determined, while North Thurston (5-15) faces Mark Morris at 7:45 p.m. Tuesday at R.A. Long in a loser-out game.
While the sizable winning margin was similar to the teams’ two regular-season meetings – River Ridge won 70-40 and 84-27 – the Rams kept things close for 21/2 quarters Friday.
North Thurston’s tight man-to-man defense forced the fast-paced offense of River Ridge into a half-court game for a lot of the first 16 minutes, and trailed 28-20 at halftime. Point guard Catie Mets had 11 of her team-best 18 points in the first half, including a breakaway lay-in as the clock expired to pull the Rams within single digits heading into the halftime locker room.
It certainly was a different North Thurston team than on Feb. 4, when the Hawks drubbed the Rams by 57 on the same court to end the regular season.
North Thurston coach Alana Olson said a big difference the third time around was that her players played with confidence, something they lacked the first two times they faced River Ridge.
“We were a lot more aggressive and had that attacking mentality,” Olson said. “Coming out tonight, they showed a lot of character, and it showed the type of heart this team has, to come back in the same gym a week later and not just step out on the court to try not lose by 50, but to step on the court and (try to) get a win.
“I’m never happy losing, but I’m very proud of my girls’ effort.”
River Ridge shot 20 of 61 (32.8 percent) but got a big boost from senior Jennifer Cole in the paint. She had 18 points and a season-high 18 rebounds, including six offensive boards, as River Ridge had a 32-16 advantage in points inside.
It was Cole’s putback that gave the Hawks a double-digit lead for good at 33-23 with 6 minutes, 13 seconds left in the third quarter. River Ridge used an 11-4 run in the final four minutes of the quarter to balloon its lead to 50-32 going into the final quarter. North Thurston cut the deficit to 15 at 54-39 on a steal and lay-in by Haley Harn.
In addition to Cole’s 18 points, Jasmine McDonald had 15, and Necy Wade added 12 points and 10 rebounds.
“I’m confident in this team,” Kelly said. “I know what they can do, and I know what they’re capable of.”