North Central girls basketball coach Gabe Medrano can finally catch his breath. Senior Gunnar Swager of the NC boys team may have a hard time finding his.
Immediately following the girls’ emphatic 45-32 victory over Kamiakin in the first round of the State 3A tournament at Shadle Park on Friday, the boys went down to the wire at Spokane Falls Community College, edging the Kamiakin boys 44-43 on a last-second layup by Swager.
Trailing by one with 5 seconds left, Swager drove the length of the floor on the inbound pass, worming his way through defenders to hit the winner as time expired.
“I was just going and I jumped up and put it off the backboard like I’ve been doing all year,” Swager said.
“It fell and was exactly when I needed it to.”
The wins by the boys and girls put the Indians’ squads into the final eight of the state tournament as they will take to the road, playing Thursday through next Saturday at the Tacoma Dome.
North Central 44, Kamiakin 43: After trailing by 10 to the Braves at halftime, NC senior Zac Hill said the tone in the locker room was a somber one.
The Indians shot just 22.2 percent in the first two quarters and a 7-0 run to close the half by Kamiakin put them in a 27-17 hole.
“Halftime we went in, we were playing very poor,” said Hill, who scored 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds. “We knew we had to step it up. We had to get the ball inside. That was the goal, that and rebound. We did both of those things and came out with a win.”
The focus on getting to the paint paid off in the third quarter, as the Indians outscored Kamiakin 13-6, using a 11-0 run to pull within one at 29-28.
They then took their first lead with 3:29 left in the fourth on a bucket by Jonathon Smith.
After trading baskets in the closing minutes, it appeared Kamiakin struck the final blow as Case Rada scored the last of his 19 points to give the Braves a 42-41 lead with 5 seconds left.
“It was really tough, but we knew we still had time left on the clock,” Hill said. “We don’t quit until the time’s over so we just went. … Gunnar got the ball and I knew something was going to happen. When he has the ball he’s automatic. He makes clutch plays.”
North Central 45, Kamiakin 32: Since an opening-round loss to Shadle Park in the district tournament put them on the doorstep of elimination, the Indians have been fighting for their postseason lives.
Securing a win against University and then handling Shadle Park twice put the Indians into the state tournament. And playing in the first round, the Indians (15-6) punched their ticket to Tacoma by knocking off Kamiakin (15-6).
“I can finally take a big deep breath and sigh,” Medrano said. “Now it’s fun because now we’re on to Tacoma and anything can happen. Our goal this season was to go to state, but more than that it was to get to the dome.”
NC used a potent combination of Tara VanWeerdhuizen on the block and stifling defense to hold the Braves to 21.8 percent shooting and a season-low 32 points.
VanWeerduizen scored 10 alone in the opening half, finishing with 16 points and seven blocked shots for NC.
She and fellow senior Riley Holsinger combined to score all but 12 of the Indians’ points. Holsinger scored 17 to go with 10 rebounds.
A big part of the win, according to Medrano, was the way his team handled the full-court press by Kamiakin. For the game, NC won the turnover battle 22-18 and did not allow the Braves to get out and run on the fast break.
“Watching them in their league, they’re used to getting a lot of steals and a lot of transition baskets,” Medrano said. “We talked about taking care of the ball because if they’re getting layins we can’t defend them.”