Riding high after winning the Mid-Columbia Conference/Greater Spokane League sub-regional championship last week, the Kamiakin High School boys basketball team looked poised to make it to the Tacoma Dome for the first time since 2012.
That chance came to an end Tuesday night.
Spencer Birkeland had a career night, scoring a game high 22 points and knocking down some huge buckets in the late going, and No. 25 Bellevue parried everything No. 22 Kamiakin could muster to beat the host Braves 64-55 to advance to regionals out of the glue-crossover game.
Bellevue (19-7) will play Squalicum at 6 p.m. Friday at Mount Vernon High School in loser-out game with the winner advancing to the round of 12 on March 1 at the Tacoma Dome.
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Isaiah Brimmer led Kamiakin with 19 points and Garrett Paxton had 15 on a night when the Braves struggled to get much of anything going against a big, physical Bellevue team.
“They’re a good defensive team, and we knew they were going to make it difficult,” Kamiakin coach Brian Meneely said. “We knew we had to get good shots, and we had several inside looks that we didn’t make. We had a lot of shots around the rim that just didn’t go.”
The rebound battle was nearly level (Kamiakin won it 29-27), but the usually opportunistic Braves turned it over 12 times to Bellevue’s seven, and the Wolverines scored 11 points (allowed three) off those turnovers.
Kamiakin (19-4) struggled to slow down Bellevue’s junior big man Andrew Kenny (6-foot-6), who scored 17 points and pulled down a game high 10 rebounds.
Very little separated the teams in the first half. When Brimmer and Paxton knocked down back to back 3s in the middle of the first, Bellevue responded by scoring nine of the next 11 points to take its first lead of the game at 14-13 with under thirty seconds to go. A Jim Mohlman layup just before the buzzer put Kamiakin back ahead at the end of the period.
Bellevue went on the only run of the second quarter — Birkeland hit back to back layups early in the period — and the teams traded buckets the rest of the way to go into halftime tied at 28.
Kamiakin looked rejuvenated coming out of the locker room, starting the second half on a 10-2 run to take a 38-30 lead a couple minutes in. But back to back 3-pointers by Colin Suter keyed a 17-5 Bellevue spurt that put it ahead by two at the end of the period. The Wolverines wouldn’t trail again.
“We just weren’t able to get going tonight,” Meneely said. “We got an eight-point separation and they were able to come right back. That’s the nature of playoff basketball; there’s going to be runs, and you’ve gotta be able to withstand them. We weren’t able to do that tonight.”
After the teams traded buckets for much of the final period, Birkeland hit a 3 from the wing to put the Wolverines up 58-52 with under 2 minutes to go — their first multi-possession lead of the game.
Coming out of a timeout, Champ Grayson hit a 3 from the top of the arc to answer for Kamiakin on the next possession, but Birkeland responded with his third 3-pointer of the game to put Bellevue up six with a minute to play, which turned out to be enough for the win.
“I thought it’s a testament to those kids that they didn’t quit fighting,” Meneely said. “And even on a night we couldn’t get it going, missed shots around the rim, those are tough nights to get through. And the kids didn’t give up, they kept scrapping and kept competing. And that’s who we were all year.”
Grayson scored 11 points and dished out three assists.
Among the seniors having their Kamiakin basketball careers come to an end were Brimmer and Koby Bailey, who were integral in getting the Braves to 19 wins and an MCC-GSL 3A championship this season.
“They’ve been with me for three, four years, and they’ve played so many basketball games, done so well for us,” Meneely said. “The leadership they give us was so phenomenal, and you don’t get success like we had this year without great leadership from your seniors.”
Forward Seth Wolf rounds out Kamiakin’s senior class.
BELLEVUE: Love 6, Hansen 6, Spencer Birkeland 22, Suter 7, Andrew Kenny 17, Pool 1, Pijpker 5. Totals: 22-48 13-18 64.
KAMIAKIN: Bailey 3, Garrett Paxton 15, Flynn 5, Champ Grayson 11, Isaiah Brimmer 19, Green, Wolf, Nichols, Pischel, Mohlman 2. Totals: 19-44 10-15 55.
Highlights — B, Kenny 10 rebs, 4 asts; Jalen Love 4 stls. K, Paxton 4x8 3pts, 4 asts, 4 stls; Brimmer 8 rebs, 4 asts.