The White River High School boys basketball team had no business making this game interesting. Not with ninth-ranked Squalicum draining eight 3-pointers in the first half, Josiah Westbrook on pace to score 44 points and the Hornets trailing by 16 at halftime.
Lo and behold.
White River charged all the way back, even possessing the lead in the fourth quarter. But Squalicum got a huge basket through a foul from Damek Mitchell and never looked back, to win 68-59 on Saturday at Puyallup High School to advance past the 2A regional round of the state tournament and to the Yakima Valley SunDome.
The Hornets (11-14) saw their season end.
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"They never quit all year," White River coach Rick Tripp said. "Our record looks crappy, 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 of the half on a 16-0 run with key baskets from senior guard Dustin France and sophomore forward Alex Wallen.
Suddenly, the game was tied at 42-42, after they trailed 42-26 at halftime. And it didn’t even feel that close.
White River then took a 47-46 lead in the fourth quarter when Cameron Cawley finished through a foul.
It trailed by three when Squalicum’s Mitchell got a steal, make a quick dribble behind the back, and finished through a 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.
"We knew we were going to get their best shot coming out of halftime," said Westbrook, who scored a game-high 24 points, with 18 coming in the first half. "We just had to come together as a team."
The Storm’s last three trips to final eight have all resulted in state-title game appearances, including back-to-back 2A titles in 2009-10.
Wallen led White River with 19 points, 15 in the second half and France scored 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 all-time scoring list at 1,248 points for his career.
"He’s a warrior," Tripp said. "He’s a Hornet. He’s done a lot for us in this program."