Leading by three points with 3.5 seconds to play in Friday’s 4A state semifinal against Gonzaga Prep, Kentwood head coach Blake Solomon had a plan for how to defend the Bullpups’ final attempt to tie the game.
Almost nothing about the plan worked, except the desired final result. Gonzaga Prep senior Kea Vargas got an open look at a 3-pointer as time expired, but the shot rimmed out and the Conquerors survived with a 56-53 win to advance to the state championship for the second time in as many years.
“We didn’t execute the last three seconds defensively like we wanted to,” Solomon said. “We were supposed to switch everything, and they got free on the back side which led to a shot. We didn’t even want them to get one up. Sometimes, if you’re going to get to a state title (game) or you’re going to win a state championship, you have to be lucky. We survived that shot going down, so now we have to make sure tomorrow that we execute when we need to.”
The Conquerors still had a foul to give in the situation, and the plan was to use it.
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“We were going to (foul),” Solomon said. “We fouled right before the timeout, so I didn’t know if (Gonzaga Prep coach Matty McIntyre) was going to call a play to get them right into the shooting motion, thinking we were going to foul, or if he was going to draw up a play that was going to draw up a play that was going to take a dribble or two, or a pass. We told (our players) that if they put the ball on floor or didn’t look at the hoop we were going to foul. If they caught it in motion, we were just going to let it go. I wish we would’ve done better there, but we kind of survived and advanced.”
McIntyre, on the other hand, got exactly what he was looking for from his team.
“The kids executed our set very well coming out of the timeout,” he said. “He had space. It was a good look. Kea is our guy, he’s made a lot of big shots for us and we’ve got to put the ball in his hands.”
Kentwood led most of the second half thanks, in large part, to two of its seniors. Beau Roggenbach led the team in scoring for the second straight day with 18, and guard Koby Huerta added 16. Huerta’s ability to get to the basket and knock down shots gave the Bullpups problems throughout the game. He finished 6 for 12 from the field and 2 for 3 from 3-point range.
“At first, I got started by going to the hoop and getting a few good looks,” Huerta said. “At the end, my teammates found me. Darius (Luborn), he hit me on both of those 3s, it was really big, so I’ve got to give it to him for finding me in the open spot.
The Conquerors, who lost 66-54 to Federal Way in last year’s championship, will face Union at 9 p.m. on Saturday in the title game. This time, they hope to leave the Tacoma Dome with the championship trophy.
“Since the beginning of the year, we’ve just wanted to get back there and get our revenge,” Huerta said. “Hopefully, we’ll be holding up the trophy tomorrow night.”
After the game, Solomon reminded his team that the goal wasn’t to get back to the championship, it was to win it.
“I just told them in the locker room that we’ve been waiting 365 days to win tomorrow, not to get to tomorrow,” he said. “We wanted to tell them that this one is sweet, you’ve got to enjoy it and celebrate it, but the job isn’t finished.”