OLYMPIA - Olympia coach Luke Salme let out a huge sigh of relief following his team's victory in the opening round of the 4A West Central District III boys basketball tournament Wednesday.
The 4A Narrows League champions haven’t been in many close games this season, much less ones that came down to the wire like the Bears’ 53-47 win over Bethel at Olympia High School.
“Yikes!” Salme said. “That’s playoff basketball.”
Olympia (19-2) faces Kentwood, a 75-62 winner over Kentridge, at 8 p.m. Friday at Auburn High School with a regional berth on the line.
Bethel drops into a loser-out game against Kentridge at 8 p.m. Friday at Puyallup.
Speed and outside shooting were two aspects of the Braves’ game that worried Salme.
At 10-12, Bethel’s record is deceiving in the always-tough 4A South Puget Sound League South. The Braves won three of their previous four games and used the 3-pointer for the majority of their points against the Bears. Of Bethel’s 47 points, 27 came from 3s as the Braves were 9-for-24 shooting from behind the arc.
A double-digit lead for Olympia (41-30) in the final minutes of the third turned into a nail-biter in the final 2 minutes, 13 seconds of the game.
Bethel’s Deandre’ Glover got a putback off Joseph Johnson’s missed 3-point attempt to pull the Braves to 49-47.
Bethel outscored Olympia, 13-4, during a five-minutes-plus stretch, and also forced Olympia into three consecutive turnovers.
During a timeout that followed Glover’s putback, Salme had select words for his team – move the ball.
Alex Weber-Brader, who was held in check for most of the second half, scored in the paint on back-to-back possessions for the Bears, while the defense held Bethel scoreless.
“What I love is we didn’t call a set play,” Salme said. “We ran motion and the kid understood to keep working the ball to great shots. That’s a good sign.”
Weber-Brader was named the 4A Narrows League MVP for the second consecutive year Monday, and had a game-high 17 points and 11 rebounds.
Up until the final two minutes, Weber-Brader had only three second-half points – a 3-pointer at the 5:17 mark of the third quarter.
In the first half, the Braves hit seven 3-pointers, including four in a row to cut what was a 14-point deficit to 27-25 prior to halftime.
While playing a lot of zone defense, Bethel forced Olympia into taking outside shots.
The Bears connected on six 3-pointers, with senior Marcus Raschkow (16 points) hitting four. Senior point guard Jamey Smith had seven of his nine points in the second half.
“It’s great to get the first win in districts,” Weber-Brader said. “We have to keep rolling right now. It wasn’t the prettiest win, but we battled and prevailed at the end.”
Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473 email@example.com