KIRKLAND - The free-throw line was exactly where Jamey Smith wanted to be.
There was no better place for Olympia’s senior point guard to ice the game than from the line, where he had struggled during Saturday afternoon’s 4A game against Kentwood in the regional round of the state tournament.
With Olympia’s lead at two points with 7.4 seconds remaining, Smith calmly sank both free throws, sealing the Bears’ trip to the Tacoma Dome with a 51-47 victory over the defending 4A state champions at Juanita High School.
Alec Wilson’s 3-pointer for Kentwood bounced off the rim and into the hands of Alex Weber-Brader as time expired.
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“I was really glad I could put them down,” Smith said. “That’s the position you want to be in, for sure. I was nervous going in, because I had been struggling. But at the same time, I feel like I almost shoot free throws better under pressure.”
Olympia (23-3) faces Curtis (21-5) in the 4A state quarterfinals at 10:30 a.m. Thursday at the Tacoma Dome.
Weber-Brader had a game-high 16 points and Smith had 14, with the biggest two points of his career coming at the most fitting time.
A 67 percent foul shooter this season, Smith missed three free throws in the fourth quarter, but wanted a chance to get to the line again.
He would get his wish, thanks to Kentwood’s comeback.
What looked like a comfortable lead at 49-40 with 1 minute, 32 seconds to go in the fourth quarter – after Dominick Francks drained two free throws to give Olympia its largest lead – turned into one-possession game at 49-47 with 26.6 seconds remaining.
Jason Boyce, who led Kentwood with 14 points, hit a 3-pointer that started a 7-0 run in a 58-second span to cut the deficit.
Kentwood had a chance to tie or take the lead with 26.6 seconds remaining. Mikell Everette missed a short jumper in the lane and Smith was fouled immediately after grabbing the rebound. He sank the first free throw before Kentwood called a timeout, giving Olympia a 50-47 lead. His second free throw was as perfect as the first, sealing the victory.
“It’s so fitting for him to hit those to put it away,” Olympia coach Luke Salme said.
The teams were tied at 25 at halftime, and Olympia outscored Kentwood 14-8 in the third quarter to build a six-point lead going into the fourth.
Saturday’s game was a different outcome than last week, when Kentwood defeated Olympia, 66-49, in a 4A West Central/Southwest bi-district game. Salme said the team watched a recording of the first half of that game prior to leaving for Kirkland on Saturday.
“I told them, ‘No matter what else let’s play like we can play’, ” Salme said. “Do what got us here and see what happens.”
It’s been a whirlwind postseason for the Bears, with four victories coming by seven points or fewer. Thursday’s quarterfinal game will be Olympia’s first time playing at a state venue since the program placed eighth in 1999 at the Kingdome.
“I’m still in shock,” Smith said. “This is exactly what we’ve dreamed of doing. it’s an amazing feeling.”
Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473 firstname.lastname@example.org theolympian.com/prepsportsblog