Emmitt Matthews Jr. wants to be mentioned among big time players.
On the brink of elimination in a Class 3A state regional Saturday night, the Wilson High School senior proved why he should be.
With 6.4 seconds remaining, and the Rams nursing a two-point lead over sixth-ranked Shadle Park, Matthews was fouled.
He paused, walked out to half court, and returned to the free throw line.
“Season on the line,” Matthews said. “Big time players make big time plays, and I want to be called a big time player. Who doesn’t want to be called a big time player?
“I had to take a step back, say my prayers, lock in and step up and knock them down.”
He made both, expanding Wilson’s lead to two possessions, and punching its ticket to the Tacoma Dome for the first time in three years.
The Rams (19-6) held on, and narrowly escaped against the Highlanders, 60-59, at Rogers High School.
“We’re excited,” Matthews said. “We’re prime time now.”
Matthews poured in 17 points to pace Wilson, and Londrell Hamilton added 16, but the Rams trailed most of the game.
“We were playing our tempo, we had it going, we just weren’t knocking down any shots,” Wilson coach Dave Alwert said. “We were just cold.”
Shadle Park, which had won three of its past four games, took a 31-21 lead into the half, ending it on a quick 7-2 run.
“I told them at halftime, ‘Don’t get your heads down. Just keep doing your same game plan, the shots will go down and eventually we’ll take that lead,’” Alwert said.
But a lead didn’t come until the last three minutes of the game.
Shadle Park opened the third quarter on another run, building its lead to as many as 14 points with 5:47 to play in the third.
Anthony Stokes nailed a 3-pointer, and the Rams scored on five of their next six possessions to trim the lead back to four points.
But, the Highlanders answered again, and pushed the lead back to nine points entering the final quarter.
Markeith Brown (17 points), Tanner Groves (16) and Andreas Brown all scored in double figures for Shadle Park.
The Highlanders appeared in control until Daniel Santana’s basket early in the fourth quarter ignited a 13-2 Wilson run.
Hamilton scored 10 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter, and gave the Rams the lead back with 2:25 to play.
He shirked one Highlanders defender and bounced off another underneath the hoop for a layup to make it 51-49.
“Then our whole team picked it up and we just started going,” Hamilton said.
Shadle Park tied it up twice in the final 2:10, but never regained the lead.
Nathaniel Stokes pulled up for a 3-pointer with 57 seconds to play to give Wilson the lead for good.
“We know our stars are going to be stars, it really just came down to the other ones,” Alwert said. “They just made some plays.”
Wilson’s season, which has been bumpy at times, will now end in the Tacoma Dome.
“We’ve been way up, and we’ve been way down, and in between,” Alwert said. “It really feels good for these kids to fight as hard as they did and to take that lead, and to finish it.”
Before Saturday, Wilson exited the playoffs in the regional round three of the past five seasons. Eastside Catholic and Garfield knocked the Rams out the previous two years.
But, don’t discount the Rams this time around.
“Whoever our next opponent is, we’re going to prepare and go at them,” Alwert said.
Wilson plays Capital (22-4) in a loser-out game at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Tacoma Dome.