PUYALLUP — As Mount Tahoma’s desperation heave clanked off the back rim and the final buzzer sounded, the Marysville Getchell High School boys basketball team erupted in a frenzied celebration.
Players and coaches shared hugs and jumped up and down in elation, basking in the latest milestone of their young program’s historic postseason run.
For the first time ever, the Chargers are headed to the Tacoma Dome.
Malakhi Knight scored 21 points and No. 15 seed Marysville Getchell earned its first-ever Hardwood Classic berth with a 54-51 win over No. 10 seed Mount Tahoma in a Class 3A loser-out state regional Friday night at Puyallup High School.
“It means everything,” Knight said. “I can’t even explain it, because just to say that we’re playing in the Tacoma Dome, it’s like a dream come true. Everyone wants to play there, so for us to be playing there is everything I could ask for.”
After winning three consecutive district elimination games last week, the Chargers (17-8) were making the first state regional appearance in their program’s nine-year history.
Marysville Getchell led for the entire second half, but a deep 3-pointer from Mount Tahoma’s Asjon Anderson trimmed the margin to 52-51 with 5.1 seconds to play.
The Chargers then inbounded the ball to Austin Townsend, who was immediately fouled. The junior forward then calmly sank a pair of free throws to make it a three-point game.
“That’s not the first game that he’s helped us seal from the free-throw line,” Marysville Getchell coach Corby Schuh said. “He’s got ice-water in his veins. He gets up there, he’s confident and he knows he’s gonna knock them down.”
But the Chargers weren’t in the clear just yet.
Anderson quickly pushed the ball upcourt and launched a potential overtime-forcing shot from just inside halfcourt. The ball bounced off the back iron at the buzzer.
“At first, my heart dropped, because I thought it was going in,” Knight said. “And after that, so much happiness and joy came to my mind. I ran straight to my bench (and) everyone was celebrating. … It was just an unbelievable feeling.”
Playing in its fourth consecutive loser-out game, Marysville Getchell got off to a slow start and trailed 9-2 early in the opening period.
But as they have throughout their storybook postseason run, the Chargers clawed back. Knight led the charge, scoring 16 points in the first half.
Marysville Getchell closed the half on a 9-2 run, punctuated by a crazy sequence of back-to-back baskets in the final moments.
Rather than stall for the last shot, junior guard Josiah Koellmer drove the baseline and sank a floater with 14 seconds remaining. Then after Mount Tahoma pushed the ball upcourt, Knight came up with a steal and converted a transition layup in the closing seconds to give Marysville Getchell a 31-25 halftime lead.
“Huge,” Schuh said of that sequence. “Just one little play can be the tipping point of a basketball game, and (those) two have been doing that all year — finding ways to make plays and get that spark going.”
Knight made another big play in the closing seconds of the third quarter, swishing a jumper to push the Chargers’ lead to 42-35.
Marysville Getchell still led by seven points midway through the final period, but Mount Tahoma (18-7) made a late surge.
After trimming the deficit to 50-48, the Thunderbirds got a defensive stop and had a chance to tie or take the lead in the final minute.
But the Chargers’ defense held strong. Mount Tahoma drove into traffic and committed a traveling violation, giving the ball back to Marysville Getchell with 27.6 seconds to play.
The Chargers added a pair of free throws to make it a four-point game, and then held on in the game’s closing seconds.
Anderson led Mount Tahoma with 14 points and 6-foot-7 post Lezjaun Harris added 10. The loss ended a special season for the Thunderbirds, who rebounded from a 1-19 campaign two years ago to reach state this season for the first time since 2006.
Koellmer and Townsend scored 13 points apiece for Marysville Getchell, which will face either No. 2 seed Wilson in a first-round Hardwood Classic game Wednesday morning in the Tacoma Dome.
“The emotions are over the moon,” Schuh said. “These guys are so stinking happy. The players worked so stinking hard this year — and obviously in the past (years) — to get to this point.
“They’ve really fought for each other all year,” he added, “and it’s an amazing feeling.”