As confident of a shooter as Jason Kananin is, he couldn’t believe the result.
His last-second, left-corner 3-pointer, on a perfectly executed pass from point guard Kobe Key, just like the two practiced Tuesday at the team’s final full practice before driving east to Yakima for the Class 2A state quarterfinal, went through the bottom of the net.
“Once I got the ball, I hoped for the best,” Kananin said. “I had to let it fly.”
Fly, it did, as the Hawks held their breath. His game-winning shot with 2.8 seconds to play lifted the Hawks to a 54-52 victory against Sehome on Thursday morning in the SunDome, and guarantees River Ridge (21-5) a state trophy for the first time since placing third in 2009.
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River Ridge faces Anacortes at 3:45 p.m. Friday in a semifinal with the winner moving onto Saturday’s 9 p.m. state title game. The Seahawks rallied from eight points down to beat Mark Morris, 58-53, in Thursday’s other morning quarterfinal.
It was a great ending to an otherwise un-River Ridge-like performance. Normally a solid shooting team from outside, the Hawks struggled (21 of 61) from the field, including 7 of 26 from 3-point range. But Kananin (team-high 16 points) was 5 of 10 from deep, and hit four in the second half.
Yet, despite the shooting woes elsewhere, the Hawks were neck and neck with the Mariners (18-9) all game doing it with defense, which coach John Barbee proclaimed, “defense always travels with you. You have to bring your defense wherever you go and we brought good defense.”
After trailing by as many as six in the second half (31-25), River Ridge used a 14-6 third-quarter run to take a 39-37 lead off a 3 by Thayer Murphy (nine points).
In a fourth quarter with no lead by either team greater than four, the Hawks didn’t need a 3 for the win; they trailed 52-51 inside a minute to go and could’ve taken the lead initially with 48 seconds remaining when Key was fouled going hard to the hoop, but a pair of missed free throws kept the score a one-point deficit.
With 34.6 seconds to go and Sehome with the ball, the Hawks got a defensive stop on an errant shot, giving the ball back to the Hawks with 10 seconds. Key rebounded and pushed the ball up the floor, two defenders near him, and found Kananin in the left-corner for the open 3.
“I saw him run right to the corner and that’s where he like to shoot it,” said Key, who finished with six points and six assists. “I trusted him.”
Barbee elected not to call one of his remaining two timeouts; instead, liking the flow after the defensive stop on the other end.
“I felt like we had the momentum,” he said.