T-Birds Find ‘Mojo,’ Clinch Regional Bid


LONGVIEW — The Tumwater boys basketball team hasn’t been pushed to the edge of the cliff a whole lot at the district level recently. But coming off their first loss to a fellow 2A side of the winter on Tuesday, the Thunderbirds responded with a dominant performance Thursday in Longview, racing past Woodland 68-43 to clinch a spot in the regional round for the third straight postseason.

Between COVID-19 and a pair of runs to the district title game, Tumwater found itself in a situation that none of the players on its roster had ever faced: loser-out, winner-to-State. But coming off of a tough loss to R.A. Long that head coach Josh Wilson said came down to physicality, the Thunderbirds responded, holding Woodland to 13 points or fewer in all four quarters.

“We kept reminding them, ‘How do you win basketball games? With defense,’” Wilson said. “And as soon as we started playing defense, a funny thing happens: the offense starts coming. We really got our defensive mojo back tonight.”

The Beavers’ hopes of an upset stayed alive for just about a quarter, thanks in large part to four 3-pointers in a two-and-a-half-minute span that briefly gave them a 12-8 lead. 

Tumwater worked through the quarter to come out ahead 17-14, and from there made sure Woodland’s well dried up completely. The Beavers finished the night going 1 for 17 from distance over the final three quarters, and shot 30% from the field overall.

With the T-Birds keeping the Beavers from getting much of anything going offensively, they pulled away early, going on a 22-4 run in the second to get the lead out to 19 by halftime — a halftime that saw Wilson keep his team in the locker room for barely three minutes before the coaching staff ran out of things to say.

“I don’t know why I have to keep reminding them that what wins basketball games is defense,” he said. “That was the only thing I had to say once we turned it on there.”

Luke Brewer scored 26 points to lead the T-Birds, going 10 for 15 from the field and 4 for 7 from beyond the arc. Twelve of those came in that big second quarter, including 10 in a row on a jumper, two 3-pointers, and a pair of free throws. He also logged eight rebounds, five assists, and three steals.

“It really helps when he’s scoring,” Wilson said. “It takes pressure off everyone else, so they can get their buckets. He had a great first half, a great game.”

It was the senior’s second big night in a row at Ted M. Natt Court; he scored 19 last year in Tumwater’s district title loss to R.A. Long to lead the way as well.

“I’ve always loved this gym,” Brewer said. “The rims are touchy, they’re not rock-hard. It’s a shooter’s gym.”

As the T-Birds took possession with the clock winding down in the first half, though, Brewer found himself tangled up in the corner. Without time to get it to him, Brayden Oram took control himself, dribbling to the wing before drilling a stepback 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded to drive one last dagger home before the break.

Oram finished with 17 points of his own, going 3 for 6 on 3-pointers.

“Brayden had an amazing game,” Wilson said. “He really was the spark plug when he got in there. When he has a good offensive night, it really helps us out.”

Andrew Collins pitched in eight points and eight rebounds; Connor Hopkins, Luke Reid, and Gunnar Harroun all scored five.

Tumwater will now wait to learn its further fate Sunday when the seeding committee announces the matchups for the State regional round. The T-Birds come to the big dance with five losses — three against 4A teams, one against a 3A, and to R.A. Long in the district semifinals — on the other end from their 2A EvCo title and wins over 3A Kelso and 4A Skyview, and were ranked No. 8 in the final Associated Press poll.

A top-eight seed would mean their regional matchup would not be loser-out, while a ranking between No. 9-16 would see the Thunderbirds playing for their lives once again to make it to Yakima.

“We’ll see,” Wilson said. “It kind of depends on what happens in the remainder of the games, because some weird stuff can happen and shake it up a little bit. I think we’re close, but I think it would be tough.”