At the beginning of the season, the Richland High School boys basketball team relied on breakaways and 3-point shooting to run away from its opponents.
While the Bombers looked good playing fast on Friday, it was stingy defense and an unexpected scoring performance that allowed them to blow out host Kamiakin 72-52 and put Richland in the driver’s seat for a conference championship.
Richland never trailed in front of the big and raucous crowd while avenging a 74-71 overtime loss at home to Kamiakin in mid-January, and snapping a 13-game win streak for the Braves.
“It feels so much better,” Richland junior forward Riley Sorn said. “I couldn’t tell you how down that locker room was after that home game against them. But it’s so great to come out here and beat ‘em by 20. I’m really happy.
There were a couple key difference makers for Richland this time around, mainly the 7-foot-3 Sorn and sophomore guard Cody Sanderson.
Sorn made his impact felt on the defensive side, pulling down nine rebounds and blocking five shots, while misdirecting and interrupting countless other Kamiakin attempts. The Bombers outrebounded the Braves 46-23 and blocked eight shots in total.
“(Sorn) covers up a lot of our failings,” Richland coach Earl Streufert said. “When you have a guy like that, it allows you to play a certain way. And I thought the guys off the bench came in and played really well when he was out of the game. I thought we defended really well.”
But Sorn has been one of the Bombers main contributors for the majority of the season. The bursts provided by Sanderson — who was not one of the top five scorers for Richland entering the game — were a shock to most in the packed crowd.
With the score tied at 15-all two minutes into the second quarter, the Bombers went on a 14-3 run fueled by nine consecutive points from Sanderson. He ended up with 19 points on 9-of-13 shooting and had 10 rebounds. Sophomore Cole Northrop and senior Tyler Kurtz ended up leading Richland with 20 points each, but much of their scoring came in the second half with the game mostly in hand.
“(Sanderson) plays like that every day, and maybe the big crowd noise let him relax a little bit,” Streufert said. “Some guys just love that environment.
“Today was a great day for him, and he really gave us a boost in that first half when we needed it.”
While Richland was able to carry a 31-24 lead into halftime, the situation could have been much worse for the Braves. Down 31-20, Kamiakin coralled an offensive rebound with 30 seconds left in the second period, and Garrett Paxton scored a layup with 10 seconds to go. Champ Grayson intercepted the Richland inbounds pass, and kicked to Kobe Bailey for an easy lay-in as time expired in the half to cut the Richland lead to seven.
But the third quarter belonged to the Bombers as well, as they went on an 8-0 run at one point, and Northrop hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give Richland a 52-39 lead at the end of the period that would never be threatened.
Kamiakin coach Brian Meneely said his team was battling the flu, and that two of his top scorers, seniors Isaiah Brimmer (12 points) and Grayson (six), didn’t practice this week.
“We knew that those kids really wanted to play in this game, and we knew what it was going to take out of them to play,” Meneely said. “And they wanted to do it; it was senior night.”
Regardless of illness, Meneely attributed the loss to a lack of execution and poor shooting — Kamiakin made 1 of 12 3-pointers — and didn’t want to take away from an outstanding performance by the Bombers, and specifically Sorn.
“Obviously Sorn impacted the game by being in the middle, blocking shots and plugging the lane,” Meneely said. “They were able to do what they wanted defensively, and we weren’t able to hurt them for it.”
Richland can win the conference championship with a victory over Hanford on Saturday, or a Kamiakin loss to Pasco. The Bombers likely will not make up their game against Walla Walla, which was scheduled for Tuesday but got canceled.
Because Kamiakin already has the top MCC 3A seed, Meneely said he was considering resting Paxton and Brimmer against Pasco, but had not yet determined their status for Saturday’s matchup.
RICHLAND: Kriskovich, Wagar 2, Cody Sanderson 19, Tyler Kurtz 20, Cole Northrop 20, Streufert 7, Sorn 4. Totals: 30-55 8-9 72.
KAMIAKIN: Green, Bailey 9, Garrett Paxton 17, Wolf, Flynn 2, Grayson 6, Isaiah Brimmer 12, Nichols, Pischel, Mohlman 6. Totals: 19-62 13-14 52.
Highlights — R, Sanderson 10 rebs; Kurtz 12 rebs; Riley Sorn 9 rebs; 5 blks. K, Paxton 6 rebs, 7-7 FTs.