STANWOOD — With 5.9 seconds on the clock, Sam Byers stepped to the free throw line in a tie game and suddenly became half his age.
“I don’t want to overdo it,” the Kingston forward said. “It’s almost like you think back to your childhood: five seconds on the clock, you’re shooting free throws.
“It was definitely an out-of-body experience.”
Byers hit one free throw, and it proved the winning point as the Kingston Buccaneers returned to the Class 2A state tournament with a 74-73 win over the Cedarcrest Red Wolves on Friday night at a regional game at Stanwood High School.
“I knew he would knock down one of them,” said Kingston point guard KT Deam, who scored 14 points.
Byers scored a game-high 26 points for the Bucs (22-5).
The Bucs surprised themselves by winning a shootout. Kingston features a grind-it-out, defensive style. The Red Wolves (17-7) of Duvall like to get up and down the floor and feature strong shooting.
“We wanted the games to be in the 50s, maybe in the 60s,” Kingston coach Blake Conley said. “If it gets to the 70s, I think my exact words were — the kids just fed them back to me — it’s going to be very, very tough.
“I think that was very, very tough.”
Neither team was able to carve out more than a few-point lead the entire game.
In the fourth quarter, Kingston took a 73-68 lead into the final minute. A pair of free throws by Jordan Corpus, who scored 20, closed Kingston’s lead to three.
Byers was fouled with 53 seconds remaining by Chris Dowd, who picked up his fifth foul on the play.
Byers missed the front end of the one-on-one.
Hunter Lee, who came in for Dowd, hit a 3-pointer to tie the game 10 seconds later. It was Lee’s first shot of the game.
Byers came through with the free throw with 5.9 seconds left.
Zach Taylor, who scored 23 for Cedarcrest, drove the court and into the lane but the final shot wouldn’t fall.
“That was probably the best we’ve played all year,” Conley said. “I told the guys that was our best defensive effort despite giving up 73 points.”
Richie Sander hit three 3-pointers in the fourth to keep the Bucs in a game that grew more and more deafening as it drew toward the end.
“That got crazy at the end,” Sander said. “That last three, my ears were ringing on that one.”
Sander was 5 of 7 from 3-point range and scored 17 points.
“Honestly, he’s the MVP of the game in my opinion,” Byers said. “We were down by three and he would match it. We would be down by three again, and he would match it.”
Cedarcrest coach Mark Prince said MVP honors went to Byers.
The burly forward, who is going to the Air Force to play tight end, was 9-of-13 from the field.
“I thought he was the difference maker,” Prince said. “He was tough to stop.”
Kingston is heading to the state for the second straight year. Last year, the Bucs took third at the Yakima SunDome. They’ll learn who their first-round opponent is at the state draw on Sunday. The draw, which is at 1 p.m. for the 2A, will be broadcast on WIAAnetwork.com
“It’s three games to the state championship,” Byers said. “That’s our goal.”
At Stanwood H.S.
Cedarcrest—Taylor 23, Dowd 1, Lee 12, Cardon 5, Corpus 20, Marty 10, Reeves 5, Houser 5, Soule 0. Kingston—Combs 6, Sander 17, Byers 26, Deam 14, Sundquist 2, Mays 9, Wall 0, Jones 0. 3-point goals—xxx. Records—Cedarcrest 17-7 overall. Kingston 22-5.