TACOMA — Gary Winston wasn’t about to end his high school career empty-handed.
The Walla Walla senior was determined to bring home some hardware from the 4A state basketball tournament in his final appearance.
He’d been mired in a shooting slump for the better part of 2 1/2 days at the Tacoma Dome, but in a glorious six-minute stretch Friday afternoon, he shrugged off the doldrums and put on a performance CBBN fans have grown accustomed to seeing.
Winston scored 16 points in the third quarter, the last coming on a 25-foot 3-pointer from the right wing, and finished with a game-high 29 to lead Walla Walla into today’s trophy round with a 67-49 win over Eastlake.
The Blue Devils (24-6) play Decatur (19-10) at 1:30 p.m. today to determine fourth and seventh places. It is Wa-Hi’s first trophy finish since 2004, when it placed seventh.
“I was just trying to stay aggressive,” said Winston, who was 6-of-6 from the field in the third quarter, including three 3s. “Everything — my shot, my feel for the ball — hadn’t been there. But I knew if we lost, our season was over, so I may as well shoot.”
Winston also credited the urging of his AAU coach, Wa-Hi principal Darcy Weisner, who was yelling at him from the front row of the Blue Devils rooting section.
“That always seems to help me,” Winston said. “He’s like my second father. He’s always telling me I’m too hard on myself.”
Whatever the reason, Winston came out on a mission. The Blue Devils ran their favorite play to open the third quarter — a high screen to free Winston for a 3. When that swished through, the floodgates opened.
Colton Arias scored on a putback. Michael Weisner, who had 18 points, canned his fourth 3-pointer of the game. Winston stole an entry pass, then hit a long 3.
One final Winston jumper from the left elbow capped a 16-0 run that gave Wa-Hi a 42-25 lead with 5 1/2 minutes left in the third, and the Blue Devils coasted home.
“That was the Gary we’ve seen all season,” said Wa-Hi coach John Golden. “Now, we get one more chance to see it (today). I’m so happy for all our seniors. They get to bring something home. They deserve that.”