ARLINGTON — The Arlington High School boys basketball team had been so close so many times.
From 2014-2022 the Eagles made four trips to the regional round of the state tournament. Each time Arlington suffered heartbreak and had its season ended one game shy of the Tacoma Dome.
After an all-around effort on Saturday, the Eagles’ Hardwood Classic drought is finally over.
Ty Rusko led four Arlington players in double figures with 18 points and the 12th-seeded Eagles had an answer for every push from 20th-seeded Walla Walla in a 68-57 victory in the second round of the Class 3A state tournament.
Arlington advances to face fourth-seeded Auburn at 7:15 p.m. Wednesday in a loser-out, round-of-12 matchup at the Tacoma Dome.
“We kind of have the monkey off our back a little bit,” Arlington coach Nick Brown said. “… I just can’t believe the way these guys stood up today and played their tails off. I’m so proud of them.”
The contributions came from across the board for the Eagles (19-5) on a night where a new hero seemingly emerged every time the team needed a big play.
Rusko did the damage early on. The senior guard connected on a pair of 3-pointers late in the first quarter to put Arlington ahead 13-9 heading into the second. Rusko hit another triple in the second and splashed in his fourth 3-pointer of the night early in the third before his fourth foul forced him to the bench.
Sophomore guard Jake Willis kept the hot shooting from beyond the arc going with Rusko out. Willis hit three 3-pointers over the final 3 minutes, 30 seconds of the third and tacked on another in the fourth for a 59-52 lead with 3:56 left.
Go-to options David Zachman, a senior center, and Leyton Martin, a sophomore guard, provided a consistent presence throughout the night, including a personal 5-0 run from Zachman late in the fourth to push the Eagles’ lead to double digits at 64-54 with 1:32 left and put the game out of reach.
Five Arlington players combined on 13 3-pointers, including a team-high five from Willis.
“We’ve got a lot of weapons,” Zachman said. “Every night it’s a different guy that steps up.”
Willis scored 17 points, Zachman had 15 points, eight rebounds and three blocks, and Martin netted 13 points for the Eagles.
Kahiau Helm scored a team-high 16 points, Dane Gardea added 13 and Ken Higgins chipped in 11 for the Blue Devils (13-13).
The teams went back and forth in a seesaw battle early. Walla Walla took its first lead of the game at 10-9 late in the first and the lead changed hands seven times in the first half before Arlington used a quick 8-0 run to go up 28-21 with just under 3 minutes left before the break.
The Blue Devils battled back and grabbed their biggest lead of the night on a 3-point play by Higgins for a 38-35 advantage midway through the third. Martin responded with a deep 3-pointer to tie it and the last of Willis’ three third-quarter triples put Arlington ahead 49-46 late in the third.
Walla Walla pulled within 49-47 after an early free throw in the fourth but couldn’t get any closer.
“I knew we had it in us,” Brown said of his team’s run to the Tacoma Dome. “I wasn’t sure they knew they could do it, but you just saw the confidence growing as we went further and further.”
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