SPOKANE -- Breathe easy, Kamiakin boys, and smile.
You made it.
After 11 1/2 months of being reminded just how close they came to a state tournament berth in Tacoma, the Braves beat a very tough Mercer Island team 60-44 on Saturday at Spokane Falls Community College to secure a spot in Thursday's quarterfinals of the 3A state tournament in the Tacoma Dome.
"I don't know how many text messages I've gotten from coaches saying they were rooting for us, and that's really cool," said Brian Meneely, who will make his first coaching trip to state in five seasons with the Braves.
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"I'm just so happy for the guys. I told them in the locker room that it would have been nice to be a No. 1 seed, but what makes today sweeter is that we persevered. We've been through so many wars. Today, we made the point that we could come back and show our maturity.
"And you can't make noise in Tacoma if you don't get to Tacoma."
The Braves (22-2) will play Seattle Prep (22-5) at 3:45 p.m. Thursday at the Tacoma Dome.
Kamiakin senior Case Rada has accomplished just about everything a high school basketball player can, but a state trip was, still, one of the few things left on his resume. He wasn't planning on finishing his career without one.
The 6-foot-2 senior made sure of that against the Islanders, hitting 5 of 6 3-pointers for a game-high 20 points and adding four steals, four rebounds and two assists.
"It's been a long time coming," said Rada, who helped orchestrate a players-only motivational meeting at the team's hotel after Friday's loss to North Central. "It goes back to last season (the Braves lost two straight games that would have clinched state). Something like that makes you not want to go through that again."
With a purely guttural desire, Rada made play after play to keep his team ahead. The Braves grabbed the halftime lead at 30-19, but when Sam Cohn hit two free throws for the Islanders to cut the Braves' lead to 30-28 in the third quarter, it was Rada who answered with a 3-pointer from the left wing. A few possesions later, he stripped Sean Hughes of the ball at midcourt and drove in for the layup to maintain a 35-30 lead.
"I've said this before. I don't think he was going to let us lose," Meneely said.
Another big difference for Kamiakin was senior guard Tyler Holle, who followed up a frustrating night -- he scored just two points against North Central on 1-for-9 shooting -- with one of his best games of the year. The 6-2 guard went 7-for-11, hitting 3 of 4 shots from long range for 19 points.
When Mercer Island guard Quinn Sterling cut the Braves' lead to 44-34 with 6:01 left, it was Holle who went on a personal 7-1 run to put the game out of reach.
"I just tried to play within the offense," said Holle. "This definitely gives us a lot of confidence."
Justin Pedley helped open up the offense early, converting a three-point play in the first quarter and then bouncing outside for a pair of long jumpers in the second quarter. Pedley finished with 10 points.
Guard Riley Hayfield also rebounded from a rough shooting night Friday, hitting two 3-pointers. But it was his fourth-quarter strip of Islanders' guard Ben Emanuels that fueled Holle's mini-run that put the game away.
"That's what I'm most proud of. These kids all fought demons and didn't think about what would happen if we lost," Meneely said. "I'll always remember that they just refused to lose."