Jordan Skipper-Brown was not playing high school basketball at this time last year.
So, this year’s road to the Class 2A state tournament in Yakima is that much more important to the River Ridge High School senior.
Skipper-Brown made that clear when his wide-open flush with 7.8 seconds remaining in regulation tied Saturday’s 2A West Central District seeding game against Renton.
He made it even clearer in overtime, scoring six points as the ninth-ranked Hawks held off the Indians, 69-66, at Franklin Pierce High School in Tacoma.
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River Ridge secured the No. 3 seed out of the 2A South Puget Sound League and a first-round bye at the district tournament.
“What fueled me was not playing last year, not being able to help my team,” Skipper-Brown said.
That won’t be the case this season, and it certainly wasn’t Saturday.
Skipper-Brown finished with a game-high 24 points, including four dunks. He completed the double-double with 15 rebounds and added six assists.
“His motor is going,” River Ridge coach John Barbee said.
This is about the time of the season the Hawks historically get revved up, too.
Following several trip-ups early in the season — including adapting to a new style of play with forwards Skipper-Brown (6 feet 5), Josh Kennedy (6-7) and Kelle Sanders (6-4) — River Ridge seems to be finding its rhythm.
“The hard part about basketball nowadays, I believe, is it’s really a guard game,” Barbee said. “… People like to run fast, press and shoot a lot of 3s.
“Our identity this year is we get the ball inside. When we get the ball inside, we’re pretty good.”
The Hawks held to that system early on Saturday. Sanders and Skipper-Brown combined for River Ridge’s first eight points before Kolton Knox hit three 3-pointers to close the quarter.
“These guys stick with it, and they’re trying,” Barbee said. “They’re trying to adapt and adjust. I think we’ll give some teams some problems.”
That had been true for Renton entering Saturday. The Hawks beat the Indians twice in 2A SPSL Sound Division play, and they controlled the pace early.
But, aided by Deondre Russ’ team-high 23 points, Renton kept River Ridge within reach.
Malik Coats — who scored 12 points for the Indians — gave Renton its first lead in nearly 11 minutes when he converted a pair of baskets late in the third quarter.
“We started missing a lot of shots, and they started shooting a lot, hitting them,” Skipper-Brown said. “Just the momentum switching at the wrong time.”
Sanders helped swing it back, opening the fourth quarter with a basket that tied the game at 42-42.
The Hawks and Indians traded the lead seven times before regulation expired.
Following Skipper-Brown’s slam that squared the score, the Indians missed a runner with four seconds remaining to send the game to overtime.
Alex Coleman opened the extra period with a long 3-pointer, and the Hawks never lost the lead from there.
“I thought we did a good job of maintaining our composure, especially in the second half,” Barbee said.
DeNero Washington scored 13 points for the Hawks, and Knox added 11. Coats had 12 points for Renton, and Taheem Jones added 11.
River Ridge (17-7) could meet Renton for the fourth time this season at 7 p.m. Friday at Wilson. The Hawks host the winner of Renton’s first-round game with Kingston.
“We can focus back up,” Skipper-Brown said, after the Hawks played three seeding games this week. “All of those games really tire us out, so we have some time to recuperate.”
“I think the nice thing about it is we have a couple of days where we can shoot some free throws and relax, and know we’re one win away,” Barbee said. “That’s what we’re playing for.”
A trip to the 2A state regionals, that is. It’s one win away.
Renton 9 15 18 15 9—66 (OT)
No. 9 River Ridge 17 10 13 17 12—69
R – Williams 8, Russ 23, Jones 11, Teclemariam 2, Barquet 2, Otero 8, Coats 12
RR – Coleman 9, Skipper-Brown 24, Washington 13, Larson 2, Knox 11, Sanders 8, Kennedy 2