Malik Sanchez scored 10 points. He was visibly frustrated with his shot. Scoring-wise, it’s not a game he’s likely to include on his résumé.
But for everything else he did, especially when the Kentwood High School boys basketball team needed it most in this win-or-go-home game, this might have been the 4A South Puget Sound League Northeast Most Valuable Player’s best.
When the Conquerors turned the ball over with 10 seconds remaining, leading Camas by a single point, Sanchez dove for a loose ball, got a steal and was fouled. He calmly sank both free throws.
Then, on Camas’ final possession and the Papermakers trailing by two points with 4.4 seconds left, he darted in front a pass near halfcourt and sealed the game with one more steal, as third-ranked Kentwood won, 55-53, on Saturday at Puyallup High School to punch its ticket to the 4A quarterfinals in the Tacoma Dome.
“End of the game, I get the steal (steps back, laughs), that was a big steal,” Sanchez said.
Kentwood’s Darius LuBom missed two free throws with 4.4 seconds left, and Camas’ Trevor Jasinsky rebounded the second miss. He tried to throw a cross-court pass. Sanchez saw it coming and picked it off.
“Even last year, in games where he wasn’t scoring or getting shots, he might not make the plays at the end,” Kentwood coach Blake Solomon said. “This year he has grown so much, and he knows that scoring isn’t the only way he can help his team.
“He rebounds, he defends and he was able to do that in the last seconds and it was huge. He made great, big-time plays when we needed it.”
LuBom dribbled past halfcourt when he was stripped by Camas’ Jordan Anderson, with the Conquerors (23-3) clinging to a 53-52 lead with 17 seconds left.
But Anderson was cut off by Preston White and the ball got away from him. Sanchez dove for the loose ball and drew a foul.
But White was then called for a technical foul. Solomon said White was arguing with a Camas player and that the referee believed White instigated it.
“When Preston got the T, my emotions … I looked at the ref and my eyes started tearing up,” said LuBom, a senior guard who scored 10 points. “I was just like, ‘It’s not about to end this year. It’s not.’ ”
Sanchez hit both his free throws, after missing a pair his previous trip to the line. Jasinsky, who scored a game-high 22 points for Camas (17-7), missed both technical foul free throws.
But off the technical, Camas got the ball back at midcourt with 5.7 seconds left. Jasinsky came off a screen and was immediately fouled, sending him back to the line, where he made one of two to cut the lead to 55-53.
LuBom was fouled and missed both his free throws. Jasinsky got the rebound and Sanchez came up with the game-sealing steal.
“I was like, ‘Game over. We’re going to the Dome. My first time,’ ” Sanchez said. “We worked hard all year. We pushed through, got this and worked hard every day. It’s paying off right now. Going to the Tacoma Dome.”
Lo and behold.
White River charged all the way back, even possessing the lead in the fourth quarter. But Squalicum (17-7) got a huge three-point play from Damek Mitchell and never looked back, to advance past the 2A regional round of the state tournament and to the quarterfinals at the Yakima Valley SunDome.
The Hornets (11-14) saw their season end.
“They never quit all year,” White River coach Rick Tripp said. “Our record looks (bad), but if you look at who we played and what we’ve accomplished — if you are going to lose the game you have to leave it all on the floor and they did that.
It looked like the Hornets might go quietly. Then they dominated the third quarter, coming out after halftime to with a 16-0 run highlighted by baskets from senior guard Dustin France and sophomore forward Alex Wallen.
White River then took a 47-46 lead in the fourth quarter when Cameron Cawley scored.
It trailed by three when Squalicum’s Mitchell got a steal, make a quick dribble behind the back, and scored while drawing the foul on the other end to cap the scintillating play. He made the free throw to push the Storm’s lead to 55-49.
Squalicum (17-7) held on from there.
Wallen led White River with 19 points, 15 in the second half, and France had 16. He and senior Brandon Scheer were pulled with 11.8 seconds left to a standing ovation from the bench, and each got hugs from Tripp.
France finishes second in the school’s career scoring list with 1,248 points.
“He’s a warrior,” Tripp said. “He’s a Hornet. He’s done a lot for us in this program.”