Around this time last year, Tyler Kurtz was bedridden with a high fever caused by a bad case of the flu.
In his absence, the Richland High School boys basketball team, which had won its fourth consecutive regular-season MCC title, had its season end in the Mid-Columbia Conference/Greater Spokane League sub-regional playoffs.
Now the 6-foot-6 senior forward is back, healthy and better than ever, and he’s got the Bombers one game away from a trip to the Tacoma Dome for the first time since 2015.
No. 11 seed Richland (18-5) will play No. 14 Moses Lake (13-9) at 6 p.m. Friday at Chiawana High School in a loser-out regional game with the winner advancing to the round of 12 in Tacoma on March 1.
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“It’s the best, especially because last year I was sick, and I get to come back and play as good as I’m playing right now,” Kurtz said.
Kurtz has been dynamic in the postseason for the Bombers, averaging 20 points in four games including 28 in the MCC-GSL opener against Lewis and Clark. But the playoff success just seems like an extension of Kurtz’s stellar regular season as he was the conference’s second-leading scorer, averaging 18.8 points to go with 9 rebounds per game and shoting 81 percent at the foul line, and last weekend was named the MCC Player of the Year.
“It kind of shows that hard work pays of,” Kurtz said of the award. “But right now, I’m just trying to win state.”
As the only healthy senior contributor on the team, Kurtz supplied the MCC champion Bombers with a lot more than points this season — he provided a sense of stability during what could have been a turbulent campaign.
“He’s the most consistent guy we have every day in practice,” Richland coach Earl Streufert said. “As a group, we didn’t practice great (Tuesday), but he had a great practice. He’s focused, and his work ethic is phenomenal.
“He plays virtually every minute of every game, especially the crucial ones. The guy never gets tired, (he) makes crucial shots when he has to make shots, he rebounds the basketball. He’s such a complete player.”
That steadiness proved invaluable during the MCC-GSL playoffs.
Richland had a chance to pull off one of the biggest upsets of the season in the championship game when it took No. 2 Gonzaga Prep to triple overtime, but the Bombers had their hopes dashed because of some clutch shooting form the Bullpups stars. Less than 24 hours later, the Bombers laced it up against Ferris (No. 7 in RPI) in a loser-out, winner-to-regionals game. They squandered a 16-point halftime lead only to be saved by a 3-point shot from Ferris’ Shamrock Campbell at the buzzer rattling in and out to preserve a 66-64 win.
“When Shamrock had that shot — and that was like the shot that could end my career — he didn’t make it,” Kurtz said. “So I kind of thought about that, but that was in the back of my mind. Not up front.
“I think it’s nice (to play close games) because we can find our flaws and point them out going forward. But it would be nice if it wasn’t so heart-wrenching.”
When his high school career does finally come to an end, Kurtz said he’s entertaining some offers to play college basketball, but that he first wants to serve a two-year mission.
“I’d like to go to Fiji,” Kurtz said.
HEAD AND SHOULDERS (AND CHEST) ABOVE
As if 7-foot-3 junior Riley Sorn didn’t already stick out like a sore thumb, he’ll be plenty easy to spot on the floor against the Chiefs, who list 6-5 senior post Ryan Karstetter as their tallest player.
Sorn said the flow of the game will be a much bigger decider of the role he plays in the regional matchup than the opposition’s height. He sure liked the flow during sub-regionals.
Against G-Prep, Sorn swatted away 14 shots and pulled down 10 boards to go with his 12 points. He followed that up with a team-high 20 points and six blocks against Ferris.
All in a day’s work for the MCC Defensive Player of the Year.
“It’s awesome to start coming on more here during the postseason,” Sorn said. “It’s definitely because of how coach is having the offense work and everyone is getting me the ball. When I score, it’s not because I’m dribbling it up the court and hitting 3s. Obviously.”
Sorn believes the team playing two tight games — against two RPI top-eight teams — last weekend will only help the Bombers as the stakes for each game keep piling higher. After beating Ferris the night after losing to the No. 2 team in the state in triple OT, just about anything feels possible.
“Tired, just extremely tired,” Sorn said of his status after the G-Prep game. “I think we had all just given everything that we had, playing pretty much seven quarters.
“I think a lot of (motivation against Ferris) was we were just angry at ourselves. For me, it was that I didn’t do enough. And the whole team, we just had to redeem ourselves and bring it back and get a win at home.”
While giving up nearly a foot in the post, the Chiefs figure to be quick, scrappy and physical, not unlike the GSL teams Richland has faced this year.
Expect to see Moses Lake in a full-court press for much of the game, but also expect the Bombers to look fairly comfortable against it.
“They like to run, they like to get out, they press,” Streufert said. “Coach (John) Hohman, they just take on his personality. The guy’s a fighter, and his kids are gonna fight you.
“I think we can push the pace against them, and if they want to run with us and shoot with us, we can play that game.
“I think we’ve just gotta play our game, and do it with unselfishness, play it inside-out first. We’ve done that really well for the last month.”
In addition to Karstetter, junior wing Zach Phillips will help push the pace for the Chiefs. He scored 30 points when Moses Lake lost to Walla Walla at the beginning of the season.
GET THERE EARLY
As the MCC champs, Richland got to host all four of its sub-regional games, and its fans — with some help from their GSL counterparts — nearly packed the 4,000-seat Art Dawald gym for those contests.
Chiawana’s gym, which will host five regional games this weekend, is much smaller.
When Richland beat Moses Lake in the regional round in 2014 — on its way to a second-place finish at state — Chiawana athletic director John Cazier said he had to turn away late-arriving fans at the door.
That leaves him with a simple message to anyone who wants to see the Bombers take on the Chiefs on Friday.
“What will sometimes happen with games like Friday night’s is the people that wait until game time to show up. Those are the people that get disappointed,” Cazier said. “You need to understand: Richland travels pretty well, Moses Lake travels pretty well.
“You show up at game time, you might not get in.”
Cazier said the doors will open at 5 p.m for the 6 p.m. tip. Tickets for all regional basketball games are $11 for adults and $9 for students and seniors.
Following the Richland-Moses Lake game, the No. 9 Prosser girls (18-4) will play No. 16 Franklin Pierce (15-10) at 8 p.m. at Chiawana. On Saturday, the No. 9 Sunnyside Christian girls (20-3) will play No. 16 Taholah (15-8) at noon, No. 2 Sunnyside Christian boys (22-2) will face No. 7 Chief Kitsap (12-6) at 2 p.m., and No. 10 Columbia-Burbank girls (22-1) will take on No. 15 Seattle Christian (17-2) at 4 p.m.
On Saturday at Richland High School, the No. 10 DeSales boys (15-7) play No. 15 Tonasket (15-11) at 2 p.m., No. 1 Dayton girls (19-2) face No. 8 Colfax (18-6) at 4 p.m., and No. 4 Sunnyside girls (19-2) battle No. 5 Central Valley (23-0) at 6 p.m.
Local teams playing outside of the Tri-Cities on Saturday include: No. 14 Chiawana girls (19-6) vs. No. 11 Woodinville (18-4) at 2 p.m. at Bothell HS, No. 7 Kamiakin girls (22-1) vs. No. 2 Gig Harbor (20-3) at 2 p.m. at Puyallup HS, No. 15 Prosser boys (14-9) vs. No. 10 Centralia (17-7) at 6 p.m. at W.F. West HS (Chehalis), No. 7 Warden boys (17-6) vs. No. 2 Lynden Christian (19-5) at noon at Mount Vernon HS, and No. 9 Mabton (16-6) vs. No. 16 Friday Harbor (10-12) at 2 p.m at Davis HS (Yakima).
Winners of games featuring top eight seeds get byes to the state quarterfinals, and the losers play in the round of 12. Games featuring nine through 16 seeds are loser-out, with the winner going to the round of 12.