Thunderbirds Grit Out Win to Reach State Quarterfinals


YAKIMA — After the absolute disaster that was the Tumwater girls basketball team’s opening-round game last weekend, Kylie Waltermeyer saw the struggle coming. But she also saw how the Thunderbirds were going to get through it.

With Waltermeyer’s co-star on the bench in street clothes and the offense never coming in full, the Thunderbirds fought tooth and nail for everything on the defensive side of the ball, and scraped out just enough points to come away with a 36-29 win over Enumclaw to keep their season rolling into the quarterfinals of the 2A state tournament.

“We had to rely on our defense,” Waltermeyer said. “All of our girls flew around tonight, worked hard, got extra rebounds and offensive putbacks. We just outworked them, and that’s what we have to do when our shots aren’t going in.”

Tumwater’s hopes Wednesday were shaken before the T-Birds even made it to Yakima, when MRIs revealed that Regan Brewer — who went down with a knee injury in their 57-31 loss to Prosser in the regional round — had torn her ACL, ending her season early.

So when Tumwater took the floor at the Sundome on Wednesday evening, Brewer had to stay on the bench, in street clothes, acting as a de facto student assistant — and motivation.

“I told the girls before the game, ‘Play for her. Play for Regan tonight. She would kill to be out there, she would love to be able to wear that jersey again and help you girls out,’” Tumwater coach Nathan Buchheit said.

Of course, playing for Brewer is one thing; replacing her in the system is another entirely. And even though the junior accounted for nearly half of Tumwater’s points this season, the bigger effect came on defense, without her harrying opposing guards and creating turnovers.

So the Thunderbirds knew that without her in there, the game would come down more to the halfcourt, and prepared for a good, old-fashioned rock fight.

“We’re used to being faster and getting most of our points off of defense,” Waltermeyer said. “We really had to focus this week on, ‘Well, what are we going to do now?’ We really did a 180 of what kind of team we are, but our morals are still the same: work hard, push the ball, and play extremely hard defense.”

That defense held Enumclaw to 14% shooting in a first half that saw the Hornets muster just eight points. Enumclaw scored a minute and a half into the first quarter, then would take exactly a quarter to find the bottom of the basket again. It would take until the 7:15 mark of the third quarter for the Hornets to reach double-digits, and the 6:08 mark of the fourth to hit 20.

Tumwater ended up forcing 14 turnovers, and held Enumclaw to a ghastly 1-for-22 night from beyond the arc.

On the other side of the floor, the T-Birds slowed things down, and let the one first-team all-league selection left in their lineup cook.

Waltermeyer scored all nine of Tumwater’s points in the first quarter, and went into halftime with 11 of her team’s 16. Out of the break, Enumclaw threw two defenders at her just about every time she touched the ball, but she still provided nearly half of Tumwater’s offense with six more points in the third, ending with a game-high 19.

“We’ve been demanding that from her for most of the season, so it’s nothing new for her,” Buchheit said. “But she’s going to get a lot of different things thrown at her.”

Waltermeyer also came down with seven rebounds and logged four steals. Morgan Simmons and Rhylee Beebe both scored six points, and Cierra Larson led the way on the glass with 12 rebounds.

Enumclaw finally found a run with five minutes left in the game, taking a 34-21 deficit and whittling it down to five points in two minutes. From there, though, Tumwater’s defense stiffened back up and held the Hornets scoreless the rest of the way, and while the T-Birds didn’t exactly ice things at the free-throw line — going 2 for 6 down the stretch — it was enough.

Tumwater will get a good 20 hours to rest up and prepare for its quarterfinal, facing No. 3 Burlington-Edison at 7:15 p.m.