The season isn’t over. There’s still another game to play and a potential podium spot to earn.
And the run the Richland High School basketball team has made this season is an illustrious one.
But that doesn’t make this loss hurt any less for the Bombers.
Richland led most of the way Friday against Union, and went shot-for-shot with the top-ranked team in the state. But too many turnovers and too many youthful mistakes piled up in a 63-61 loss to the Titans in the Class 4A semifinals at the Tacoma Dome.
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“It sucks,” Richland senior forward Tyler Kurtz said. “I really thought we could win this game, and it would have been really awesome to play in the state championship. But I guess not.”
Instead, Union will play the winner of the Kentwood-Gonzaga Prep seminfinal at 9 p.m. Saturday in the Class 4A state championship game.
Richland will play No. 2 Gonzaga Prep in the third/fifth-place game at 11:15 a.m. The Bullpups beat the Bombers in triple overtime in the MCC-GSL sub-regional championship game.
Union senior guard Cameron Cranston scored a game-high 25 points points and hit the game-winning layup with 3 seconds left to spur the Titans (21-4) to victory.
“He went left every time, and you knew he was going to go left every time, but it was still hard to stop him from going left,” said Kurtz, who was matched up against Cranston for most of the game.
Like most games decided by a razor-thin margin, that game-winner didn’t come without its share of controversy.
Union got the ball with 1:10 to go and the score tied at 61-all. It held possession until firing up a 3-pointer with around 45 seconds left, which was missed, but the Titans battled for an offensive rebound, which created about a seven-second differential between the game and 35-second shot clock.
Richland’s Ryan Wagar blocked Union’s 3-point attempt with seven seconds to go, but stepped out of bounds when trying to possess it — though he may have caught it out of bounds to begin with — which gave the ball to Union. The officials decided to reset the shot clock instead of making the Titans inbound the ball with no time to waste.
Union inbounded and found Cranston open for the layup with 3.2 seconds left. Richland’s Cody Sanderson got an open look for 3 on the other end, but the shot rattled in and out as the buzzer sounded.
“It really had no bearing on the game,” Richland coach Earl Streufert said. “I’m not sure if they got it right or not. I’m not sure our guy had possession — maybe had he made a pass out of it or something you could call that possession.
“But it doesn’t really matter, we had fouls to give at the end, and we didn’t foul. We talked about it, but you know, it’s a big moment, kids haven’t been in that moment. We should have fouled, and they shouldn’t have ever gotten an opportunity to shoot.”
In addition to the slip at the end of the game, Richland’s youth showed as it turned it over 18 times to Union’s five, which more or less wiped out the 36-27 advantage the Bombers had on the boards.
“We missed plenty of free throws, plenty of good looks, we made some silly turnovers,” Streufert said. “You’ve gotta tip your hat to Union. They played downhill harder than any team we faced all year. They’re super disciplined on offense, and hey, they made shots.”
Playing in a full sprint from the tipoff against a Union squad that can gallop with the best of them, Richland got double-digit scoring performances from Cole Northrop (16 points), Kurtz (14), Riley Sorn (12) and Cody Sanderson (10), and Ryan Wagar scored nine. Northrop shot 5 of 9 from 3-point range to pace the Bombers’ 8-for-20 clip from outside, and Sorn made life tough underneath the hoop for the Titans with five blocks.
A 13-4 run got the Bombers a five-point lead near the midpoint of the first quarter. But Richland couldn’t stretch it further, with tight defense from the Titans and some sharp shooting from Cranston keeping it close.
Union went on a 12-5 run through the middle part of the second quarter to take a 31-29 lead with a minute to go, but Richland’s Tyler Kurtz scored a 3-point play 45 seconds ahead of halftime to give the Bombers a 32-31 lead heading into the locker room.
Richland had chances to pull away in the second half. Maybe the best one was when it erased Union’s 46-42 lead — the Titans’ biggest of the game — with with an 8-0 run to lead 50-47 at the end of the third.
But like they did all game, the Titans answered, this time with a 5-0 run to sent the game spiraling into a series of ties with Union taking occasional leads.
Sorn — who has played even bigger than his 7-foot-3 frame during this tournament — made some big plays down the stretch, including a 3-point play with 2:45 left that pulled the Bombers within one point, and a block that kept the Titans from pulling away at 61-all with two minutes left.
But in the end, he was called for a charge — on what looked like a nifty bit of flopping by the defender — that set up Union’s final possession with 1:10 to go, and the Titans are the team that will get to play for a state title.
“Anybody that tells you (you learn more from losing) is a philosopher,” Streufert said. “I’m not a philosopher. I want to win every stinkin’ game, just like our guys want to win every game.
“It’s just a basketball game, just a setback, and sometimes you’ve gotta go through those struggles to move forward. But we don’t take a lot of solace in the philosophical points. I wanted the guys to get that win and get into the state title game, because who knows, you never know if that’s ever going to happen again.”
Other than losing in the 2014 championship for a silver medal, the Bombers haven’t finished higher than fourth in state since their 1979 state title.
“I love our attitude; we don’t back down,” Kurtz said. “People say we’re young, we’re not good, we’re not as athletic as these other teams. But we still made it to the semifinals and we’re still playing.”
RICHLAND: Stevens, Wagar 9, Cody Sanderson 10, Tyler Kurtz 14, Cole Northrop 16, Streufert, Riley Sorn 12. Totals: 23-47 7-15 61.
UNION: Shepard 4, Reznick 9, Tyler Combs 14, Lamey, Lewis 9, Brown, Gamble 2, Cameron Cranston 25, Franklin, Susee. Totals: 24-66 10-13 63.
Highlights — R, Cody Sanderson 9 rebs; Northrop 5x9 3pts, 4 asts; Sorn 5 blks. U, Combs 3 asts; Zach Reznick 5x6 3 pts.