TACOMA — Kelso’s boys’ basketball might have fallen to Timberline and finished sixth in state on Saturday, but to many who watched this team, the 2017-18 group will go down as the best in Kelso history.
“Second to none,” coach Joe Kinch said. “It’s the best Hilander basketball team in history. They just played every bit of it, every game, every minute. I’m super proud. Today’s outcome will be in the rearview mirror pretty quick.”
The 22-win Scotties lost 64-59 to the Blazers in overtime of the 3A State Tournament fourth-place game early Saturday morning, but they have a lot to be happy about.
Just ask O’Dea, Lincoln, North Thurston, Wilson, and even Timberline, which Kelso beat in the regional round.
Kelso’s finish to regulation, perhaps, exemplifies its season. Down 52-51 with six-tenths of a second on the clock, Riley Noah went to the line and sank one of two shots to the game and send it to overtime.
Yes, we’re not mistaken. It’s that Noah, the one who underwent an emergency appendectomy Sunday and was expected to take a month to recover. He finished with seven points including the game-tying free throw.
“He was amazing,” senior Emmitt Kinch said. “It’s unreal what he did.”
Shaw Anderson added: “We talked about if we made it far enough he could come back but. But I didn’t actually think he would play. It helped our confidence having him play with us.”
In overtime, Timberline coasted out to the lead and Kelso couldn’t mount a comeback after doing so several times over the past couple days.
“What they accomplished will always remain in stone,” Kinch said. “It was a tremendous amount of work by every one of those kids. And they did it together.”
Timberline put forth a scorching 21-point first quarter and made some clutch shots in overtime, the ultimate difference in an otherwise even-keeled game. Both teams threw jabs, hooks and haymakers. Kelso, playing from behind until Noah’s free throw tied the score, never gave in.
“We’ve grown so much over this past month,” senior point guard Emmitt Kinch said. “We’ve beat some great teams, beat some great teams. We’ll look back on this, like playing (Wichita State commit) Erik Stevenson twice — he’ll go places. There’s a bunch of great players, and it’s been amazing.”
Kelso forward Shaw Anderson led all with 29 points in the Hilander season finale, while Stevenson led Timberline with 25 points. Noah finished with seven points and played big minutes in the second half.
Kelso outscored Timberline in the final three frames to return from a nine-point deficit from the first quarter. A 3-pointer from the left side Anders Gamble with just under two minutes remaining set up an and-1 on an Anderson drive. That play setup Noah’s free throws, which setup overtime — and the final four minutes of a historic run.
The 1993 Kelso team had lunch with coach Kinch following the Scotties win over No. 2-ranked O’Dea on Friday, and conceded that this year’s group was the better unit.
That was one point the coach conveyed to players and coaches during an emotional postgame speech, as Kinch told players they should leave the Tacoma Dome with their heads held high.
“It’ll be a blur for a while, but I think as they begin to process it, they’ll have a hard time wiping the smile off their faces,” Kinch said. “Because the run they went on was second to none, it really is. People don’t know the gauntlet this group went through to get here. … They’re going to have wonderful, wonderful memories from this thing.”