TACOMA — It’s taken 25 years, but the Kamiak High School boys basketball team can finally count itself among the Elite Eight.
The Knights are headed to the state quarterfinals for the first time in school history after upsetting the Union Titans 57-48 in the opening round of the 4A Hardwood Classic on Wednesday afternoon at the Tacoma Dome.
Danny Sharpe scored 21 points, Carson Tuttle added 19 and the 14th-seeded Knights used a dominating third quarter to stun the third-seeded Titans and keep their season alive.
Not bad for a team that was 6-7 after getting throttled by Glacier Peak on Jan. 5. Since then the Knights are 11-1, having won eight straight — including back-to-back victories over last year’s state champion (Kentwood) and runner-up (Union).
“I’m just happy to be here, honestly,” Sharpe said, voicing the sentiments of a team that’s enjoying a journey that seemed impossible six weeks earlier. “I don’t even care if we win or lose, I just want to play on the court. It was great.”
Kamiak gets another chance to play on that court as the Knights (17-8) face fourth-seeded Richland in the quarterfinals at 3:45 p.m. Thursday back at the Tacoma Dome.
Union, led by Ethan Smith’s 16 points and Tyler Combs’ 13, finished its season 20-7.
Kamiak trailed 28-24 at halftime, and there was some cause for concern as the Titans surged during the second quarter behind Smith and Combs, the team’s star guards, who began heating up.
But the Knights emerged from halftime a different team, particularly on the defensive end. Kamiak put the clamps on Smith and Combs, with Patrick Olson doing a number on Combs after sitting much of the first half because of foul trouble. The Knights limited Union to just four points in the third quarter, not allowing a field goal until 1 minute, 25 seconds remained.
“We were closing out a little too hard,” Tuttle said about Kamiak’s defensive adjustments. “We knew they had shooters, but we were fouling some guys out there. We really just wanted to keep a hand up on the shooters, but not pressure up on them with our bodies. I think the fact we were able to just keep hands up and disrupt their shot was helpful in the second half.”
Meanwhile, the Knights were playing the inside-outside game to perfection on the other end of the floor. The 6-foot-7 Sharpe, who had an advantage inside all game long, stepped out and hit a 3 to give Kamiak the lead at 32-30. Tuttle hit a pull-up jumper and converted a three-point play, Olson spun in a 3, and when Landon Overturf scored a putback at the buzzer the Knights found themselves with a sudden 42-30 lead. Union never got closer than six the rest of the way.
“I’m so happy for the kids, to see those guys elated,” Kamiak coach Cory West said.
“I saw grit, I saw focus,” West added. “All the cliche words I can think, they had it, all of them.”