Rayvaughn Bolton loves the Tacoma Dome. And the Dome has so far loved him back.
He was a sensation for the Kentwood High School boys basketball team in its last game here — the 4A state championship.
And in his first return appearance, he scored a game-high 20 points, with five assists, as Kentwood held off Bellarmine Prep, 73-65, on Wednesday in the first round of the 4A state tournament.
“I love coming here,” Bolton laughed. “It’s beautiful. We went into the locker room — love it. It’s a great feeling.”
Kentwood lost that 4A title last year to Federal Way, but was leading at halftime — thanks to Bolton’s efforts — in a game few expected Kentwood would contend in.
The 6-foot-2 guard scored the first two points of Wednesday’s game. Bellarmine never went away, but whenever the Lions made a run to get back in, Bolton led the Conks’ counter run.
“I thought he was phenomenal,” Kentwood coach Blake Solomon said. “He did a great job. He’s the one who really righted the ship for us.
“He’s a calming presence for us. Even when they went on their runs, he was the one providing energy. He’s kind of our emotional leader.”
Kentwood advances to the state quarterfinals at 12:15 p.m. Thursday to face Curtis, which earned a first-round bye with a regional-round win over Davis.
Bellarmine went on one final run in the fourth quarter.
The Lions began the period trailing 54-45, but pulled to within 58-53 when Joey Bodoia found Garrett Horner for a bucket with 5:50 remaining.
They forced a Kentwood turnover and Bodoia was fouled with a chance to cut the lead to one possession. But he missed the front end of a one-and-one.
Back-to-back buckets from Darius LuBom — Kentwood’s two-time league MVP — and Beau Roggenbach pushed the Conks’ lead to eight. LuBom then got a steal and hit Eli’Sha Sheppard for a fast-break dunk with 3:15 remaining to make it 64-54.
“That really energized us,” Solomon said of Sheppard’s dunk. “Shep has done that quite a bit. He’s worked on his body so much that now he’s physically in the best shape he’s ever been in.”
LuBom struggled from the field, making 4 of 10 shots, but finished with 12 points and six assists, and he dominated defensively, showing why he was an all-NPSL defensive back in football. LuBom had three blocks and two steals.
And it was his birthday.
“He had to fight through it today,” Solomon said. “Senior year, it’s his birthday, I think he was a little amped up.
“That’s the thing about him is he is so good that he can do things on both sides of the floor. Shot isn’t going and he can step up on defense.”
Bellarmine had four players score in double figures — led by Bodoia’s 18 points (he scored the Lions’ first eight points of the game). Freshman point guard Jaylen Scott added 17 points, Horner had 15 and Christian Moore had 10 points and 12 rebounds.
But ultimately experience showed — Kentwood is making its third consecutive appearance in the Tacoma Dome and Bellarmine Prep its first since 2012.
The Lions graduated TNT All-Area player of the year Malachi Flynn last season, and he starts at Washington State. So the Lions might have surprised some people by just getting to the Dome.
“We lost a real special player, and people pegged this as a rebuilding year,” Bellarmine coach Bernie Salazar said. “If it was, it was a pretty good rebuild.
“Honestly, I felt like we could do this. This is always our goal. I felt we had the pieces.”
Salazar said he spoke to his players afterward about Bellarmine’s journey to the Dome.
“I’m really proud of my guys,” Salazar said. “One of our key sayings is the reward is the journey. Sometimes it’s not the destination. It’s obviously a good thing if you can get to that final game, but we made really good memories this year.”
Kentwood has to figure out how to get past a rested Curtis. To claim their first state title since 2010, the Conks will have to win four games in four days.
“Some of our guys were freaking out about that, but I told them that when I played it was four days,” said Solomon, who played alongside Rodney Stuckey at Kentwood when it won the 2004 state title. “And they play like five or six games a day sometimes in AAU. And we’re lucky we have a lot of guys who can play and help us out, so we are going to use all of our resources.”