PUYALLUP — It might have been 25 years since Kelso High School’s last appearance in the Washington state high school boys’ basketball tournament, but Saturday, the Hilanders played with the poise of a team that goes every year.
Because of that poise and an ability to hit big shots when needed, Kelso’s streak of tournament-less basketball is over.
Shaw Anderson scored 21 of his 27 points in the second half, and the Hilanders overcame a huge performance by Wilson’s Emmitt Matthews, Jr, in a 65-54 victory over the Rams in a winner-to-regional game in the West Central/Southwest 3A Bi-District Tournament quarterfinals.
“The satisfying part is going to state,” Anderson said. “Especially for our seniors, for them to go in their last opportunity to go.”
For Kelso coach Joe Kinch, the berth in the regionals — and if RPI rankings hold, a spot at state — was only emblematic of the team fulfilling its potential.
“I think we’ve maximized ourselves,” said Kinch, whose squad sits at No. 6 in the state’s RPI rankings. The top eight teams automatically qualify for the Tacoma Dome. “We’ve still got plenty of games to play, and I think we’ve kind of proven tonight we belong in that conversation.”
The Hilanders (19-4) advance to face unbeaten Lincoln in the regional semifinals on Thursday at 6 p.m. at Tacoma’s Foss High School. The Abes defeated Capital 56-44 earlier on Saturday.
Riley Noah added 12 points and Jon Bowlby tallied 11 for Kelso.
Matthews finished with 31 points and 22 rebounds for the Rams, notching a double-double by halftime (12 points, 11 rebounds). But efforts of the 6-foot-7 UConn commit weren’t enough.
“I just told Jon Bowlby, who drew the assignment, do the best you can,” Kinch said. “That’s legitimate, about what we tried to do. He’s a tremendous talent. Moreso, we didn’t let any of their other guys get loose.”
But the Hilanders’ excellent spacing throughout the contest ensured that they would find open shots. Noah had a pair of 3-pointers in the first quarter as Kelso raced out to an early 10-4 lead and kept it for much of the contest.
Wilson did take the lead with 1:40 before halftime when Adam Maxon banked in a 3-pointer from the right wing. But Anderson retook the lead with a putback of his own missed shot and Bowlby added a nifty basket in the paint, and the Hilanders led 26-23 at halftime.
Kelso kept the Rams at arm’s length in the second half, as Anderson began to take over, scoring 10 points in the third quarter and going a perfect 4-for-4 from the floor.
The Rams had a bit of momentum after a Matthews putback cut the lead to 49-43 with 6:28 left in the game, then harassed Kelso on the ensuing possession, running the shot clock down to the last few seconds. Then the ball got to Anderson at the top of the arc, well behind the line.
“That shot was a big shot,” Anderson said. “They get you excited; they make you play harder; they give you a boost of energy.”
Noah added another 3-pointer shortly thereafter, boosting the lead to 59-47 as the senior gestured to the Kelso fans who made the trip to the game. The Rams were just chasing after that.