LACEY - River Ridge coach Jeremy Landram credited a defensive change for his team's unlikely comeback Saturday, leading to the Hawks to a dramatic 58-57 win against North Thurston.
Jonathon Witt’s basket with 4.3 seconds remaining won it for the Hawks, who trailed by 15 points in the first round game of the 2A district playoffs.
Down 51-44 going into the fourth quarter, River Ridge switched to a triangle-and-two zone defense. North Thurston missed its first six shots and went scoreless for the first 4:30 of the period.
“Our triangle-and-two got them out of rhythm,” Landram said. “It got us back into the game.”
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River Ridge, beating the Rams for the third time this season, outscored North Thurston in the fourth quarter, 14-6.
River Ridge led, 56-55, on Brad Wallace’s two free throws with 1:13 left, giving the Hawks their first lead of the game.
But North Thurston regained the lead on Landon Rushton’s running jumper off the glass for a 57-56 lead with 13 seconds left.
River Ridge’s Nile Norwood then dribbled the length of the court and his shot was blocked out of bounds. Norwood inbounded to Witt underneath the basket for the game-winner.
Matt Reid’s desperation shot near halfcourt bounced off the rim at the buzzer.
“Coach told us to keep pushing, to keep trying,” said Witt, who led River Ridge with 17 points. “We didn’t give up.”
In the first quarter, North Thurston jumped out to leads of 13-2 and 21-7. But the Hawks finished the quarter with a 7-0 run to cut the gap to 21-14.
The Rams led at halftime, 36-27, then 42-29 midway through the third quarter.
“We got a great start,” North Thurston coach Tim Brown said. “But we didn’t have a great finish.”
North Thurston went 3-for-12 from the field in the fourth quarter.
“It wasn’t so much them as it was us,” Brown said. “They played good defense, but we couldn’t do anything. We couldn’t even catch the ball.”
The Rams’ defense was geared to stop Wallace, but the sophomore guard still finished with 16 points. Rushton had 17 points and Reid 13 for the Rams.
“We started awful,” Landram said. “They came out with a lot of energy. We got lucky at the end. We made the run when it counted.”
River Ridge finished the game with a 7-2 run.
“We weren’t trying to eat clock,” Brown said about his team’s play early in the fourth quarter. “We weren’t thinking run the clock down and force up a 3(-pointer). Their zone just really slowed the game down.”
In the second round Wednesday, River Ridge (16-5) plays Chehalis in Longview and North Thurston plays Mark Morris in Kelso. Both games are set for 7:45 p.m.