If second-ranked River Ridge needed a test before the playoffs, it got one Tuesday night.
After building an 11-point lead by the end of the third quarter, the Hawks barely edged out a late Clover Park rally to remain undefeated.
River Ridge outlasted the Warriors, 80-78, to pick up its 13th consecutive win. The Hawks (17-1, 13-0 2A South Puget Sound League) remain undefeated in league play with one regular season game to go.
“Clover Park did a great job grinding it out and keeping it close and making us battle,” River Ridge coach John Barbee said. “I think that’s exactly what we needed.
“We needed to see, can we make free throws down the stretch? Can we take care of the basketball? Can we mentally be sharp? I think it was a good test for us.”
River Ridge clinched the 2A SPSL title last week when it routed Steilacoom, 92-55.
It is guaranteed to host the No. 5 seed out of the 2A Olympic League in the first round of the District 2/3 tournament. That matchup is slated for 7 p.m. Feb. 10.
This is the first game the Hawks have won by a single-digit margin since December.
“We talked about it after the game,” Barbee said. “The win-loss doesn’t do much, it’s more about how we play and the process. We’ll definitely learn from this one.”
River Ridge shot 20 of 58 (34 percent) from the floor but picked up 27 points from free throws. It knocked down 27 of 36 (75 percent) from line.
The Hawks opened up a 60-49 lead by the end of the third quarter behind Jaden White, who finished with a team-high 18 points. Tre’vonne Dorfner added 14, while LaBrandon Price and Kobe Key each had 11.
Jeremiah Morris scored a game-high 29 points for Clover Park.
White briefly exited midway through the third after his knee buckled going for a rebound, but he came back in the fourth to hit two 3-pointers.
“It definitely put fire in all of us,” White said. “Whenever we see somebody get down, we just have to get him right back up and buy into the process.”
Clover Park went on a 10-2 run down the stretch, but the Hawks’ stingy defense forced 25 turnovers — nine in the third quarter — to fend off the rally.
“I think that’s been our staple,” Barbee said. “The flip side of that is there was no defense in the fourth quarter — we gave up 29 points. We might have run out of gas there.”
Fumes were enough to put Clover Park away.
The Warriors had a chance to tie or take the lead trailing by two with 6.8 seconds to play. White closed in on Deonte Jackson, forcing him into an off-balanced jumper that barely nicked the front of the rim.
“Momentum swings,” White said. “We have to be able to handle the pressure.”
River Ridge wraps up its regular season at 7 p.m. Friday against Orting. The Cardinals have not won a league game this season.