Down eight points early in the second half with its best player saddled with four fouls on the bench, No. 3 Rainier Beach didn’t panic.
Instead, the Vikings dug deep, played sticky defense and hit the boards.
And the result was a grind-it-out, 61-53 win over No. 7 University of Spokane in the Class 3A boys semifinals Friday afternoon in the Tacoma Dome.
Rainier Beach will go for its first state title since 2008. And it’ll face a familiar foe in Metro League rival No. 2 Seattle Prep (24-5), a 50-46 winner over No. 1 Kamiakin of Kennewick in the other semifinal.
The Vikings found themselves down 34-26 at the end of first half, with the speedy Titans beating Rainier Beach at its own game, pushing the pace and controlling tempo in the first half.
Making things worse, Kansas-bound guard Anrio Adams picked up his fourth foul just a minute into the second half and had to sit.
No matter. The Vikings (26-3) promptly went on a 21-8 run to seize control of the game, grabbing a 47-42 lead at the end of the third quarter.
“We have a lot of players on this team that could really be starters on other teams,” said Rainier Beach junior guard Will Dorsey, who finished with a game-high 16 points.
“So when they get their chance they’re ready from the get go to come out and put up buckets, play defense or just be a role player.”
The Vikings picked up the intensity defensively in the second half, and Rainier Beach head coach Mike Bethea used his traditionally deep bench to wear down the Titans (20-5).
“They started getting a little tired about midway through the third quarter,” Bethea said. “And our energy just kept going up because I can go get number eight, nine and 10 (off the bench) and they can come in and play that good pressure defense.”
Down 27-22 at halftime similar to the Rainier Beach game, the Panthers eventually wore down Kamiakin (23-2) with the inside presence of Mitch Brewe, D.J. Fenner and Josh Martin. The trio accounted for 35 of Seattle Prep’s 50 points.
“I thought we were the most aggressive team in the second half,” Seattle Prep head coach Mike Kelly said. “And they were the most aggressive team in the first half. And that’s how things worked out.”
The Panthers’ reward is a rematch with the Vikings. The two teams have already met three times, with Rainier Beach holding a 2-1 edge in the series.
However, the Panthers won the last game in the Sea-King District title game.
“If you don’t get an opportunity to practice and to play against some of the teams we get an opportunity to play in the Metro League, then it’s really hard the first time you face them,” said Kelly, who is looking for his first title since the Panthers won it all in 2006.
Said Bethea about today’s final: “Honestly, we don’t care. We got here, so whoever wins we’ll be ready to go.”