There was no way the Richland High School boys basketball team was going to outrun Federal Way on Thursday morning.
Too many athletes, too much skill, too much pace.
But the Bombers didn’t wind up in the state quarterfinals by accident. And they took it on themselves to prove that they didn’t “just belong” on the court with the two-time defending state champs.
The Bombers wanted to show the Tacoma Dome crowd they could win.
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Riley Sorn was a monster in the middle with 16 points, eight blocks and 10 rebounds, and the No. 11 Bombers pulled off the improbable, controlling the game down to the closing seconds and sealing a 61-57 quarterfinal victory over the No. 4 Eagles with a bizarre finish.
“In my career, it’s top three. Top three for sure,” Richland coach Earl Streufert said of the win. “Beating Beamer (in 2014) to get into the finals was huge. We had several over the years, but this is a big one.”
Added senior forward Tyler Kurtz: “Obviously we expected to win, because you never want to go into a game thinking you’re going to lose. But I didn’t think it would come down to the wire like that.”
Richland will play No. 1 Union at 3:45 p.m. Friday in the state semifinal. A victory will advance the Bombers to their second state title game since 1980.
It would have been reasonable to think Federal Way’s press and overall pace would have made it tough for Sorn, Richland’s 7-foot-4 junior forward. But the Bombers knew he would have to get involved to keep the Eagles in check.
“When we were going into practice yesterday, coach was talking about how they’re going to try and run us,” Sorn said. “They would think that’s what our weakness is just because they think I’m slow or whatever. So we were focused on, if I need a break, go get one, but other than that, I’ve gotta run my butt off.
“During the game I felt good, my legs were fine. But I definitely gave it my all, left it all on the court. I’m dead right now.”
While causing mayhem defensively in the paint and pouring in a game-high point total were nice, Sorn said his main task in neutralizing the Eagles’ attack was keeping Federal Way senior forward/post Malcolm Cola, the 4A North Puget Sound League MVP, from controlling the boards.
“We were the aggressors, and what we really wanted to focus on was that 25 (Cola),” Sorn said. “We knew that he was crazy on the boards, always is. So we wanted to get a butt on him and keep him off the boards. That’s mainly what we were worried about.”
Cola was held to eight rebounds and 11 points, and the Bombers narrowly outrebounded the Eagles 33-31.
The end of the game played out like so: Richland, which never trailed by more than a possession after the first quarter, led 57-55 when a layup by Federal Way’s Marcus Stephens tied the score at 57-all with 1:30 to go.
Richland’s Cole Northrop traveled while trying to get an open 3, and FW’s Jaden McDaniels missed an open 3 on the next set of possessions.
Richland called a timeout, and Streufert dialed up the “base offense” with about 30 seconds to play.
“We have our base offense, and we haven’t run it much hardly all year,” he said. “We sat on it until the last month, but the guys have run it their whole lives.
“It’s built in with pressure releases, and there’s layups in it.”
The play managed to 1) burn a lot of clock, and 2) get Cody Sanderson wide open under the basket for an easy layup to make it 59-57 with 5 seconds left on the clock.
“I know when Cody goes that hard to the rim, it’s in,” Sorn said.
That was when the game took a turn for the weird.
Both teams called timeouts before Federal Way inbounded again, and the Eagles broke the huddle with McDaniels and his backup, Etan Collins, on the floor.
Problem is, Federal Way doesn’t play those two at the same time.
“We came out on the floor and I saw that they had six guys, because first I was checking one (McDaniels), and one and 13 (Collins) are both in,” Sorn said. “And I’m like, ‘Well crap! They’ve got six guys on the floor.’ ”
“I was wondering if they (the officials) were going talk about it all night or call it,” Streufert said. “I’m glad they got it right.”
The officials got together, and to the Bombers’ delight assessed the Eagles with a technical foul. Northrop went to the line and knocked down two free throws, Richland inbounded to Kurtz on the ensuing possession, and the senior hurled the ball in the air to keep it out of play until the buzzer.
And that was all she wrote.
“Cole always, he’s clutch with the free throws,” Sorn said. “He always makes them in those spots.”
Richland spread out the scoring exactly how it wanted to, with Garrett Streufert pouring in 15 points, Kurtz 11 and Northrop 10. Streufert was 3 of 6 from 3-point range and Northrop had six assists.
Stephens led the Eagles with 14 points. Palofino Jatta (10 points) and Rashon Slaughter (11) also scored in double digits and Etan Collins had seven steals.
RICHLAND: Stevens, Wagar, Sanderson 7, Tyler Kurtz 11, Mitchell 2, Cole Northrop 10, Garrett Streufert 15, Riley Sorn 16. Totals: 24-53 6-12 61.
FEDERAL WAY: Marcus Stephens 14, McDaniels 2, Nnanabu 1, King, Vongsaveng, Collins 8, Palofino Jatta 10, Malcolm Cola 11, Rashon Slaughter 11. Totals: 22-58 10-18 57.
Highlights — R, Streufert 10 rebs, 3x6 3pts; Sorn 10 rebs, 8 blks, 7x8 FGs; Northrop 6 asts. FW, Etan Collins 7 stls.