It was fitting the best player in the 4A classification would come up with the biggest play.
Cameron Cranston’s go-ahead layup with 3.2 seconds remaining was enough to lift the second-ranked Union High School boys basketball team to a 63-61 victory against No. 8 Richland on Friday in the 4A state semifinals in the Tacoma Dome.
Cranston inbounded the ball from the left sideline to Jason Franklin Jr., then immediately sprinted toward, the baseline, got a bounce pass and finished the layup.
“I mean, Coach set me up in the right position, my teammates put me in the right position – it was an easy play,” Cranston said.
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“It’s just so sweet to go to the championship.”
Since missing what could have been a game-tying bucket his sophomore year in the state semifinals against Federal Way, Cranston has made a thing of these late-game heroics.
There was this one to send Union to the state title game against No. 3 Kentwood, which makes its return appearance. They will play at 9 p.m. Saturday in the Tacoma Dome.
But there was also last year against Bellarmine Prep. Malachi Flynn, who now starts at Washington State University, hit a 3-pointer and Cranston followed with the game-winning 3-pointer.
“I don’t like to brag, but it’s not my first game winner,” Cranston said, smiling.
He has said that one against Bellarmine was the best shot he’s ever hit.
But how about this one he made on Friday?
“Very close,” said Cranston, who scored a game-high 25 points. “This being for the state championship game – it’s up there.”
And Union became the first team in this state tournament to beat Richland and it’s 7-foot-3 junior center Riley Sorn, who finished with 12 points, five rebounds and five blocks and wasn’t as big of a factor as he was in Richland’s toppling of two-time defending state champion Federal Way in Thursday’s quarterfinals.
“Dude, it was hard – he’s huge,” said the 6-foot-6 Cranston. “7-3, there’s not much you can do on that. But we got it done.”
Cranston scored to make it 61-58 Union, but Ryan Wagar’s 3-pointer tied it up.
Cranston tried a go-ahead 3-pointer with seven seconds left, but it was blocked by Richland’s Cody Sanderson near the end of the shot clock buzzer. He leaped from inbounds, caught the ball with two hands in the air and landed out of bounds to give the ball back to Union.
And the Titans got a full 35-second shot clock back because Sanderson had possession, even though he was in the air. So it gave Union enough time to score the go-ahead bucket.
Sanderson’s 3-pointer from the right wing at the buzzer was off as Union held on for the win in a thrilling, back-and-forth affair.
“Our heart, our residence and our unity – we’re best friends on this team,” Cranston said. “And it carried us.”
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677