LACEY - It's hardly right to call a guy a role player when he plays such a huge role.
And comes through.
Tumwater junior Connor Smith, a 4.2 points-a-game scorer during the regular season, stepped to the free-throw line with 6.2 seconds left and his team trailing in a loser-out boys District IV tournament game Saturday night.
Moments earlier, Smith had been fouled on a rebound under the Chehalis basket. He swished both free throws to put the Thunderbirds ahead, 63-62.
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Only after Chehalis’ Brock Wade, who led all scorers with 25 points, missed a final attempt at a victory was Tumwater able to celebrate its one-point victory and a berth in the regional round of the Class 2A state basketball tournament.
“I honestly thought he was going to make that last shot,” said Smith, who had a hand in Wade’s face as he fired away.
Tumwater senior Kyle Warner, who led the T-Birds with 18 points, said it was nice to see Smith at the line with a chance to win the game.
“He lives for those moments,” Warner said.
The winning free throws were not Warner’s only contributions in the final minute. With 43 seconds left, he corralled a loose ball tipped by a teammate, drew a foul and tied the game with the first of two free throws.
Nor was Smith the only role player to come up big for Tumwater.
Junior guard Even Gudbranson, who averaged 1.3 points this season, scored on a strong drive to the hoop to give the T-Birds a 54-51 lead early in the fourth quarter.
“I trust every one of our players,” Tumwater coach Curtis Medved said. “We talk about making plays, especially this time of year.”
Tumwater dug a 49-40 hole for itself – Chehalis’ biggest lead – late in the third quarter.
But the T-Birds pushed back, powered by three-point baskets by Warner and Jace Feldmeier, to trail 49-47 at the end of three.
A Wade bank shot gave Chehalis the lead at 55-54 with 3:10 left in the game. Daniel Hinkle answered with a trey for Tumwater for a 57-55 Thunderbirds lead.
After the Bearcats rebuilt its lead to 61-57, Warner banked in a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to one. Smith then tied it with a free throw, before Wade made one of his own with 20 seconds left.
That set the stage for Smith’s heroics.
Hinkle contributed 13 points and Zach Boede 12 for Tumwater, which trailed 35-28 at halftime.
“We feel like we can play with anyone,” Warner said.