The Tumwater High School boys basketball team lost several of its starters to graduation from its fifth-place finish at the Class 2A state tournament last season.
But after dropping three of their first four games, the T-Birds appear to be back on track, with a new cast of emerging players.
Led by sophomore Thomas Drayton, who scored a team-high 18 points, Tumwater decisively topped River Ridge, 66-50, on Thursday night at Saint Martin’s University.
Tumwater has won three straight, including beating local rival Capital in buzzer-beating fashion on Saturday.
Balance — the T-Birds had nine players score and three in double figures against River Ridge — is what has started to define this year’s squad, coach Thomas Rowswell said.
“We’ve got inside play, outside play,” Rowswell said. “I thought our big fellas did a good job finishing, but also at the free-throw line tonight, and we were able to get some kick out 3’s in the second half, and get that going.
“If we can do a little of both, we’ll see if we can make a run at the right time.”
Brian Marty (12 points) and CJ Geathers (10 points) helped round out the offensive performance by the T-Birds, who quickly built a lead on the Hawks — a team they lost to by 21 points at this time last season — and never gave it up.
Cade Otton’s turnaround layup seconds into the game was all it took to kick off an early 9-2 T-Birds run.
“Every time you play River Ridge it’s going to be tough,” Rowswell said. “We were worried about their size and athleticism. They’re going to be a good team this year, and so are we, but we both lost a lot of guys.”
Trey Dorfner, who scored a game-high 20 points, scored all 10 of River Ridge’s points in the first quarter, and was one of only two players to connect from the floor for the Hawks by halftime.
Tumwater took a 32-22 lead into the break. The Hawks struggled throughout the game to climb back, and cut their deficit to single digits several times but never threatened to take the lead.
River Ridge, which took fourth in the 2A state tournament last season and lost five starters, was defeated for the second consecutive day after falling to Capital at home Wednesday.
River Ridge coach John Barbee said after Wednesday’s loss that his team is struggling to find its identity early on.
“Right now, we’re not working, the effort isn’t there,” Dorfner said. “We have the ability. We have big men that we’ve never had in this program. We have things we can do.
“It needs to be more of us coming together as a team, and figuring out that there’s one goal, and it’s trying to get a state championship.”
Each time the Hawks did gain some momentum, the T-Birds had an answer. Tumwater held the lead around the 10-point margin for most of the game, and held the Hawks to a 10-point fourth quarter to close it.
“We’re right where we need to be,” Rowswell said. “We’re trying to find a rotation, we’re trying to work through some execution. Defensively, I thought we were solid tonight.
“I think we’re exactly where we need to be. Guys are stepping up, and it’s a long season, so we’ve just got to keep going and getting better.”
Both River Ridge (5-3) and Tumwater (4-3) play next at the North Thurston Holiday Tournament, which begins Wednesday at North Thurston High School.
River Ridge will play Shelton at 5:15 p.m. and Tumwater will play North Thurston at 7 p.m.
River Ridge 10 12 18 10_50
Tumwater 20 12 19 15_66
RR – Dorfner 20, Valerio 3, Page 3, Skipper-Brown 4, Kennedy 4, Sanders 6, Coleman 2, Washington 8
T – Otton 4, Drayton 18, Marty 12, Geathers 10, Koukal 6, Weller 3, May 6, Koelsch 6, Wilmovsky 1