It is safe to say the River Ridge Hawks certainly have one aspect of boys postseason basketball down pat.
Finding a way to district title games.
For five consecutive seasons, River Ridge won the Class 2A Southwest District crown. And after missing out last year, the Hawks are once again in familiar territory, this time coming out of a new league (2A SPSL) and district (West Central District).
Led by timely 3-point shooting, the ninth-ranked Hawks built a big lead, then held off White River, 61-54, in the WCD semifinals Thursday night at Foss High School.
Senior Jason Kananin hit six of the team’s nine 3-pointers en route to 22 points. Mac Armstrong and Issiah Scott both added 12.
And the Hawks ended up needing all of those points, because White River’s Dustin France scored 13 of his career-high 31 points in the fourth quarter.
But after a River Ridge turnover, with the Hornets trailing 59-52 with 25 seconds to go, France went in for another bucket inside — and was promptly held in check by LaBrandon Price’s blocked shot. The Hawks were never in danger again.
River Ridge (18-5) will face Washington for the 2A WCD title Saturday night at 8 p.m. in this same gymnasium.
“Winning breeds winning. By the standard of the school, we are going to do well and perform at a high level,” River Ridge coach John Barbee said. “That is the mentality. They are used to winning, and the tradition is kind of what carries them.”
Kananin, a 5-foot-10 guard, certainly had the shooter’s touch Thursday — and was one of the most dangerous outside threats in the 2A Evergreen Conference last season, Barbee said.
He hasn’t had as good a shooting year, but that went out the window Thursday. He sank his first 3-pointer 35 seconds into the game — and ended up making four of them in the first quarter.
“Hoop was kind of like wide open,” Kananin said. “I have that shooter’s mentality. Even if they don’t go in, I’ll shoot the next one.”
The Hornets (10-13) had a miserable start to the second half — they went the first 5:18 without scoring, and committed four turnovers — and found themselves in a big hole, trailing 45-31 heading into the final eight minutes.
But France got hot as White River cut the Hawks’ lead to seven points three times, but got no closer.
“You know, it was the first big game for these kids,” said Hornets coach Rick Tripp, adding he lost seven players from last year’s district championship squad. “They were a little bit afraid, I thought — a lot of uncharacteristic turnovers.”
4A West Central/Southwest bi-district
Up eight inside of two minutes left in the fourth quarter, then six with 1 minute, 32 seconds left, the Blazers got in trouble when the Lions went on a 6-0 run to tie the game at 59-all and eventually claim the lead at 61-60 following free throws.
But with 19 seconds remaining, Timberline senior guard Brandell Evans’ layup was the eventual game winner, sending the Blazers to 4A regionals. It’s the program’s third straight trip to regionals; the past two years, the program went as a Class 3A program.
“I’m so excited for these guys,” Thomas said. “No one knew what we could do without (former Blazers and current UW freshman) Donaven (Dorsey). He was so good for us the last three years that it was hard to go out of his shadow. We are finding our identity of who are we with this group, and I think tonight we figured it out.”
Thomas credited his team’s start defensively, particularly Tariq Romain’s play on Bellarmine guard Malachi Flynn, whom Romain held to five first-half points.
TImberline plays Gig Harbor at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at Mount Tahoma in a fifth/sixth-place seeding game.
2A District 4
Gavin Kerner had a game-high 22 points — one of three Tigers to reach double figures in scoring — to lift Centralia to Saturday’s winner-to-regional, loser-out game against Woodland.
The loss ends Black Hills’ season at 13-10 overall. Tre Hackney led the Wolves with 12 points; TJ Mickelson and Casey Duff each had 11.