KENNEWICK -- A surprising regional loss to North Central may not have been a part of the plan for the then-No. 3-ranked Kamiakin boys basketball team.
But as things turned out, that slight hiccup -- though it might not have seemed so at the time -- may have been the best thing that could have happened to the Braves.
Kamiakin followed up the loss with an impressive 60-44 win over KingCo district champion Mercer Island, which had a distinct size advantage. The unique matchup allowed the Braves to expand their horizons a bit in terms of how they stand up against west-side teams.
"I thought the win against Mercer Island gave us a lot of confidence that we could play a team that was physically big and play a different style to win a game," Kamiakin coach Brian Meneely said. "Sometimes you wonder about teams from the west side, because we don't see that brand of basketball.
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"We would have liked to be the No. 1 seed, but now we don't have to wonder what those teams are like."
Now, the Braves (22-3) will face Seattle Prep (22-5) at 3:45 p.m. today at the Tacoma Dome.
The Panthers feature yet another big lineup that includes 6-foot-8 post Mitch Brewe and 6-7 freshman forward Josh Martin.
Kamiakin doesn't quite match up in terms of overall size. The Braves have two 6-6 players in Justin Pedley and Zach En'Wezoh, but Pedley's ability to bounce outside for long jumpers makes him a dangerous weapon.
And there is more than just one way to effectively neutralize a height advantage.
"We'll use the same game plan (as Mercer Island)," Pedley said. "They're bigger, but we'll just try to use our quickness to get around them, and hopefully that will do the trick."
Meneely emphasized the importance of keeping Seattle Prep off the boards and limiting its points inside. But the Braves have had a good week of practice, and Meneely is optimistic about the team's first trip to state since 2000.
"It's about keeping them sharp mentally, and a big thing for me is staying hungry," he said. "The teams that go home early are the ones that are just happy to be there. We spent a lot of time talking about our goal of not just getting to Tacoma. Our goal is to go out there and make some noise."
This may be Kamiakin's first trip in basketball for 11 years, but that doesn't mean the Braves are entirely unfamiliar with high school's biggest stage.
Several players have already found success at state, just in different sports.
When Braves guards Tyler Holle and Shad Fletcher hit the Tacoma Dome floor today, they might feel a tinge of dja vu.
The pair were members of the Braves football team that reached the 3A state title game last fall. Kamiakin lost 38-0 to Bellevue, but it was a valuable experience for both.
"Being in the state championship was one of the best feelings I've ever had, but I feel like we've got some unfinished business there," said Fletcher, the CBBN's defensive MVP in basketball and an all-state cornerback in football.
Holle was named to the all-CBBN first-team in football and basketball.
Riley Hayfield, a senior guard, was also a finalist in the 4A golf tournament last spring, and Garrett Anderson, a senior forward, was a pitcher for the Braves' baseball team that reached state in 2009.
"It can help as far as nerves go," Hayfield said. "In tough times at the end of games, you've got to be able to stay poised and focused. There's some of that in golf, handling the pressure when you're standing over a shot."
Holle was pleased to share the Tacoma Dome experience with the Kamiakin girls team, which will play Glacier Peak at 9 a.m. today.
"It's really cool that they made it, too," he said.
The last time both teams played together at state was 1995, when both teams finished fourth.