KENNEWICK — It's a coach's nature to want his best player to get the ball with the game on the line.
Kamiakin coach Brian Meneely got exactly that during the Braves' 59-58 win Friday night over the Kennewick Lions in the CBBN 3A district championship game at Kamiakin High School. Kamiakin's all-CBBN post, Justin Pedley, scored 27 points, grabbed nine rebounds and answered the call every time his team needed him, including the game-winning free throw with two-tenths of a second left on the clock.
Even though Pedley had missed 6 of his 9 previous shots from the stripe, Meneely had no doubt about his 6-foot-6 senior putting the game away.
"In all honesty, I thought he'd make them. For the same reason that (Kennewick guard) Bryce Leavitt would make them in that situation," said Meneely, who picked up his second consecutive district title. "He goes to the gym every day and puts in the work.
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"It was all net."
It's also every coach's dream for each player to elevate his game and make big plays when it counts. That's where the capacity crowd at Kamiakin High School got its money's worth.
The Braves (21-1) earned their second consecutive trip to state. They will face the No. 6 seed out of District 3/4 in the first round of the regional round of the 3A state tournament next Friday at Art Dawald Gym in Richland. The Lions (18-4) will host Shadle Park -- the No. 2 seed out of District 8 -- at 6 p.m. Tuesday for a state berth.
Kamiakin and Kennewick split the season series, with each team recording a decisive home win. This one, however, went right down to the wire.
The Braves led 32-21 at halftime but watched the Lions chip away thanks to an inspired second-half effort.
"We knew they were the No. 1 team, but when things started to get tight we were able to force some turnovers," said Kennewick coach Bradyn Leyde. "I thought we were in it. Whenever you've got guys like we have, you never feel like you're not going to win it. We've got a lot of playmakers."
Leavitt (17) and Reggie Clinton (18) combined for 35 points to lead Kennewick, but it was the role players that made a big difference down the stretch. Guard Brandon Pocasangre hit a 3-pointer to open the fourth and later scored on a give-and-go from Clinton to cut Kamiakin's lead to 47-46 with 4:30 to go in the game.
Pedley went to work on the other end, scoring the Braves' next nine points, but the Lions were matching him point for point. Domach Domach scored on a reverse layin and Devven Ramos converted a three-point play to pull Kennewick within 54-51.
Down 57-52 with :45 seconds left, Luiz Santiago drilled a 3 from the left wing to bring the Lions within 57-55. After En'Wezoh hit a free throw, Domach came up with his biggest play of the year, using a pump fake on the low block to hit the layin and draw a foul. His free throw tied the score at 58 with just 16 seconds left.
"Paco and Reggie hit some big shots, and I thought Domach did a great job," said Leavitt, who was held scoreless in the fourth quarter. "It was a tough game. We gave ourselves a chance to win it, but it didn't go down that way."
Pedley got the call on Kamiakin's final possession, taking an entry pass in the key and dribbling down the left side of the block with just two seconds left. When he went up for a shot, Stetson Plew went up with him to swat the ball away.
Plew drew the foul, much to the chagrin of the Kennewick fans and coaches. Pedley believed it was a tough call for the refs, but thought they got the call right in the end.
"It was a tough call. You don't always get that call," he said. "I took a little nudge. I was fortunate it went our way."
After Pedley hit the game-winning free throw, some disgruntled Lions fans littered the floor with crumpled up paper, and a few tried to confront the officials before they were safely escorted from the premises.
"I thought it was a good (defensive) contest. I thought we played it straight up with pretty good defense," said Lions coach Bradyn Leyde. "We're disappointed, but there were a lot of aspects we didn't capitalize on, not just the last play."
KENNEWICK -- Pocasangre 8, Reggie Clinton 18, Bryce Leavitt 17, Ramos 5, Domach 7, Smith, Santiago 3, Plew, Mueller. Totals 21-51 7-8 58.
KAMIAKIN -- Clyde 6, Wilmoth 1, Williams 2, Justin Pedley 27, Zach En'Wezoh 18, Quinn 2, Hunt. Totals 24-48 8-20 59.
Kennewick 13 8 18 19 -- 58
Kamiakin 16 16 9 18 -- 59
Highlights -- Rebounds: Ken 20 (Leavitt 6), Kam (En'Wezoh 12); 3-pointers: Ken 9x28 (Leavitt 3, Clinton 3), Kam 3x11 (Clyde 2); Turnovers: Ken 9, Kam 15; Assists: Ken 9 (Leavitt 6), Kam 14 (Wilmoth 6); Steals: Ken 11 (Leavitt 4), Devven Ramos 4), Kam 5 (Wilmoth 2).