It's no coincidence that when the Kamiakin Braves boys basketball team was at its best this year, so was Justin Pedley.
A three-year starter, the 6-foot-6 senior contributed heavily to Kamiakin's most memorable wins of the year. In most cases, Pedley, the Tri-City Herald's Player of the Year, had the ball in his hands at the most crucial moments.
Take an early-season 67-59 home victory against Davis, which would go on to capture the 4A state championship. Pedley led all scorers with 21 points and pulled down 10 rebounds.
"It was definitely pretty cool to say we were the only Washington team to beat them this year," he said. "But we were cheering them on at state."
Pedley had some fine moments at state himself, putting the team on his shoulders in the waning minutes of a 58-47 quarterfinal win over Kennedy. He went cold at the free-throw line before hitting a clutch jumper and sinking his last five free throws down the stretch.
In the semifinal against Seattle Prep, he led the team with 20 points and nine rebounds, and calmly buried three free throws with 34 seconds left to pull the Braves within two points before Prep pulled away for the win.
Pedley is proud of Kamiakin's fifth-place finish, but after four years of dedication to the program and faith in the people around him, he's even more proud of his teammates.
"We played every game to our fullest ability," he said. "We'll look back on this in 10 years, and we won't remember that we finished fifth. We'll remember the relationships we had with each other."
Pedley will certainly be etched in the Kamiakin history books for quite some time, having racked up 1,149 career points -- good for second on the Braves' all-time list -- and 528 rebounds, which puts him third.
One of Pedley's favorite moments, though, was being at the free-throw line in a tie game against Kennewick with 0.2 seconds left with the CBBN 3A district title on the line. He hit the first one to secure the 59-58 win, smartly drilled the second one off the rim to run out the clock, and then headed over to the Kamiakin student section to celebrate the Braves' second consecutive championship.
"Academics are always going to be extremely important to me," said Pedley, who carries a 3.97 GPA and was accepted into MIT last week. "But there's nothing like making the game-winning free throw in the district championship. I'll never beat that."
Pedley is joined on the All-Area first team by Braves teammate and fellow post Zach En'Wezoh, who earned the CBBN 3A defensive MVP nod. A pair of Kennewick senior guards, Reggie Clinton and CBBN 3A MVP Bryce Leavitt, also picked up first-team All-Area honors after leading the Lions to their third winning season since 1990 and a top-10 ranking.
Chiawana senior guard Miquiyah Zamora, who shared the CBBN 4A MVP honors with David Trimble of Davis, and Richland senior guard Adam Baker round out the first-team selections.
Kennewick coach Bradyn Leyde, who created the framework for the Lions' wildly successful and unforgettable season, is the All-Area coach of the year after leading the team to a 19-5 record -- its best since 1972.
"It was a special group of kids. Bryce and Reggie will tell you the same thing," Leyde said. "A lot of guys worked on individual skills, and we had a lot of success over the summer. Our early season results validated what we were doing."
Leyde's team will take a step back with graduation, losing all five starters and several key reserves, but he's optimistic that the magical season can create some positive forward motion for the program.
"People are excited about basketball at Kennewick High School. You see a lot of people dribbling basketballs. I'm excited to see who the next people are going to be," Leyde said. "Hopefully, we can have a group that comes in and shows the kind of heart and love of the game that this group had."
Second team: P Joe Douglas, jr., Hanford; P Jordan Downing, sr., Chiawana; G Israel Manzo, sr., Sunnyside; G Bryce Perez, sr., Moses Lake; P Brad Scott, sr., Southridge
Third team: G Cristian Aguilar, sr., Kiona-Benton; G Sal Escobedo, sr., Grandview; G Nathan Roberts, sr., Columbia-Burbank; G Jake Siefken, sr., Liberty Christian; G Tyrell Turner, sr., Richland