T-Birds Survive Cold Shooting, Late Scare, Advance to State Quarterfinals

NEXT UP, MARK MORRIS: Tumwater holds off late run to beat Renton in loser-out matchup


TUMWATER — Josh Wilson’s broken record made it across the pass to the Yakima Valley Sundome.

The Tumwater boy’s basketball team’s defense won it another game this postseason, as the No. 11 Thunderbirds upset No. 3 Renton 56-53 on Wednesday morning in a loser-out contest in the 2A boys basketball state tournament’s Round of 12, extending their season at least two more days.

“I’ve been saying that lately,” Wilson said. “Talk about a terrible offensive night, and that just proves that defense wins games, because that was that was just a defensive effort. That was it. There was hardly any offense going on that game.”

The T-Birds finished the game at an ugly 38% from the field, 2 for 13 from 3-point range — both makes came in the first half — and went 53% from the free-throw line. The baskets never opened, from tip to buzzer, but once Tumwater took the lead on a pair of Luke Reid free throws midway through second quarter, the defense made sure it would never give it back.

Not that Renton didn’t test it down the stretch.

Tumwater got its lead out to as many as 12 points two minutes into the fourth quarter, jumping out into the final period with an Andrew Collins dunk and a pair of Luke Brewer layups. From there, though, the T-Birds went from cold to frozen with the ball in their hands, and Renton started to chip away. After the T-Birds started the morning dominating the glass, the RedHawks got their own share of success down low, and manufactured a 12-0 run on putbacks and free throws to tie things up at 53-53 with 2:27 to go.

Needing a basket — just one basket — the Thunderbirds went to their senior star. Taking a screen around the top of the key, Brewer hesitated for a moment before driving to the left, hit a wall of two defenders, pivoted, and went up through contact for a double-clutch floater. As the whistle blew, the ball hit back iron before curling around the rim, dropping in the bucket finally. 

“If we need somebody to have the ball in there hands down in the last seconds, you want it to be Luke Brewer, and he showed why that’s the case,” Wilson said.

A free throw completed the old-fashioned three-point play, and Tumwater had its last gasp of offense.

That left 1:24 left on the clock, and while Renton got over a minute to huck up 3-pointers — including getting the ball under the basket with 4.5 seconds, and then again with a second left — Tumwater’s defense contested them all, and all clanked out.

“I think the state tournament environment — especially at 9 a.m., being that first one — is always a tough and challenging situation, but our guys stuck with it,” Wilson said. “They could have caved, it was going pretty poorly there for a stretch. But they stuck their nose down and finished it off. Three stops there down the stretch, and I don’t know if they really got a shot off. We did a fantastic job defensively.”

Brewer finished with 22 points to lead all scorers, and also had six rebounds. Connor Hopkins came in at 11 points, five steals, and three boards, and Luke Reid dished out five assists.

The result keeps Tumwater’s season alive, and gives them a break from loser-out play Thursday, when they’ll take on a very familiar foe in No. 4 Mark Morris. Its last matchup against the Monarchs came last year at the Lower Columbia MLK Day Classic, with the T-Birds beating Wilson’s alma mater by 12. 

After the game, Wilson was quick to tell his squad about one of his own State runs for the Monarchs, back in 2005, which began with a three-point win over Renton. Maybe that’s a sign; that team reached the title game, but to do so this year, Tumwater will have to go through Mark Morris.

“It’ll be fun, it’ll be a battle,” Wilson said. “I’d really like them to be someplace else on the bracket — not because I’m worried about playing them or anything, but I love Billy (Bakamus), love my Monarchs — but now we’ve got to come out and do our best to beat them.”

It’s also the second winter in a row that’s seen Tumwater face off against a side from Longview in the State quarterfinals. Last year, the T-Birds fell to R.A. Long to send them to the consolation bracket. A win would put the T-Birds in the state semifinals for the first time since 2016.