Comparing his side’s first clash with 2A W.F. West to its second on Friday, Tumwater girls basketball coach Nathan Buchheit took a second, before a small smile threatened to sneak out across his face.
“I think Kylie helps,” he said. “Just a little.”
Playing in her fourth game since missing a month with a leg injury, senior Kylie Waltermeyer certainly helped the T-Birds — more than a little, in fact — hold off the Bearcats for a 44-39 win, evening things out atop the 2A EvCo standings going into the final week of play.
Waltermeyer led the Thunderbirds in scoring for the third straight game, scoring 10 of Tumwater’s 12 first-quarter points and finishing with a game-high 20. She finished her evening shooting 50% from the floor and 2 for 3 from beyond the arc, providing a T-Bird offense that struggled to find someone to put shots up in WFW’s 53-37 win on Jan. 10 a much-needed finisher.
“She’s just another leader on the floor, and she has a good feel of the game,” Buchheit said. “She fills in some holes we had as a scoring option.”
But Waltermeyer didn’t will the T-Birds to victory herself; she capped off a team display that showed just how dangerous Tumwater can be when it has all its pieces firing at once.
Regan Brewer pitched in seven points, and Cierra Larson and Kendall Gjurasic both had six. Even without a ton of scoring, though, the Thunderbirds’ depth in itself was a weapon, as Tumwater ran up and down the floor all night long against a W.F. West side that at times struggled to keep up with a six-player rotation.
Add up the points from the first five minutes of all four quarters, and the Bearcats outscored the T-Birds by seven points. But Tumwater won the battle in the final three minutes by 12, including a 8-0 run in a two-and-a-half-minute span at the end of the third quarter that turned a 27-27 time into a 35-27 lead.
“We knew that going in after what we saw last game,” Buchheit said. “They’ve got a short rotation, and unfortunately, one of their players is hurt. I’d rather play teams at full strength, but we knew that would be a tempo matchup that we needed to win.”
Tumwater’s defense forced 22 turnovers on the night, with Brewer coming away with five steals and Waltermeyer swiping four.
On the other side of the court, the Thunderbirds simply out-hustled the Bearcats on the offensive glass, coming down with 15 offensive rebounds. The biggest came at the very end of the game, when Brewer missed the front end of a one-and-one with a four-point lead and 30 seconds left, but Larson came down with the ball, allowing Brewer to get the ball back and waste more time before getting fouled again. This time, she made one of her shots, and added two more 12 seconds later to seal the win.
Brewer led the T-Birds with 13 rebounds, five of which came on the offensive boards. Rhylee Beebe added four — all offensive.
“Effort, at the end of the day, is what we ask of these girls, and they provided it tonight,” Buchheit said.
Sophomore Julia Dalan put up 13 points, 15 rebounds, and six blocks to lead the Bearcats down low, but W.F. West’s offense struggled at times when it couldn’t get her the ball in the post. Lena Fragner and Grace Simpson both added eight points, but the Bearcats suffered two crucial scoring draughts — the one in the third quarter to let Tumwater take the lead back, and one early in the fourth, not taking advantage of a spell of defensive success.
“We talked before the game about not having highs and lows, we can’t play peaks and valleys,” WFW coach Kyle Karnofski said. “There were definitely times where we had peaks and valleys.”
A win for W.F. West would have clinched the 2A EvCo title for the Bearcats; as it stands currently, Tumwater sits ahead of them by half a game, but W.F. West has one more game to play. Should both teams win out next week they’d both finish 11-1 in league, with WFW holding the tiebreaker due to its win over Tumwater being by a larger margin.
With just a week until the district tournament, though, both coaches were less focused on the league title than the prospect of a possible Round 3.
“These are the games you want to play in,” Buchheit said. “All respect to Coach Kyle over there and that W.F. West team, and we’ve got the split. We’ve got to take care of business, both sides, and maybe we’ll meet each other again. Tonight was definitely a good vibe, a State vibe.”