TACOMA — This team lives for these moments.
This team is still alive because of these moments.
The Union boys basketball team came up big again down the stretch and will play for fourth place at the Class 4A state tournament at the Tacoma Dome.
Denis Kirichenko rattled home a 3-pointer with 8 seconds left in regulation to tie the game, then the Titans ruled the extra session for a 78-71 victory over Lewis and Clark of Spokane in the consolation semifinals Friday afternoon.
Union will face Issaquah at 9:30 a.m. Saturday in a trophy game.
“I looked up at the scoreboard and said there’s no way our season’s going to end this way,” Kirichenko said.
The Titans trailed by eight with 3:34 to play, five points inside two minutes, but they never stopped attacking.
Then, down three with 30 seconds to play, Union had one more possession.
Kirichenko grabbed an offensive rebound, passed the ball to Tyler Combs, who returned the ball to Kirichenko.
“I gave a little jab step, and then I took it,” he said.
The ball rattled the rim, hit the backboard, then fell into basket.
“C’mon dude, don’t do this to me,” Kirichenko recalled thinking. “It was terrible, really, The ball spinning on the rim like that. I hated it. Then it went in.”
Tyler Combs hit a 3-pointer less than a minute into overtime, giving Union the lead for good.
“My job is to get these guys the ball,” he said, referring to Union’s top scorers. “And hit my open shot when the opportunity presents itself.”
Well, that was an opportunity.
Keithen Shepard had four of his 15 points in the extra period, his last basket giving the Titans a 72-66 advantage at the 1-minute mark.
The Titans would make their next six free throws to seal the deal.
Up until the closing minutes of regulation, it appeared Lewis and Clark would survive. Cameron Underwood scored 12 of his team-high 18 points in the fourth quarter as the Tigers rallied from a 10-point halftime deficit to take that eight-point lead.
“Everyone lifted each other up,” Combs said. “We knew we were going to do it. We’re a brotherhood. That’s just what we do.”
Cameron Cranston led Union with 20 points. His two free throws late in regulation made it a three-point game. He scored again in overtime, as well.
“It’s a pattern,” he said of this team’s late-game dramatics. “If we have one little crack in our brotherhood … we could have lost this game. We knew we were going to keep grinding and grinding and come back.”
While Kirichenko hit the clutch shot and Combs gave the Titans the lead for good, there were so many other moments that kept Union’s season alive. Nico Bricker had 18 points, going 5 for 7 from the floor and getting to the line a dozen times. Shepard was a beast on defense. Zach Reznick was 8 for 8 from the line.
“We just have so many weapons,” Kirichenko said. “That’s what I love about this team.”
This family of basketball players will get one more day to showcase that love.
UNION 78, LEWIS AND CLARK 71
LEWIS AND CLARK — Justin Martin 11, Cameron Underwood 16, Adam Thompson 2, Naje Smith 6, Isaiah Hernandez 6, Anthony Smith 12, Adam Jacobson 0, Cameron Duncan 8, Dominick Oliveri 10, Vaughn Handel 0. Totals 27 (10) 7-20 71.
UNION — Keithen Shepard 15, Brennan Paulson 0, Zach Reznick 8, Tyler Combs 10, Carson Brucher 0, Austin Lewis 0, Christian Agarpo 0, Kai Gamble 0, Cameron Cranston 20, Justin Ongley 0, Nico Bricker 18, Denis Kirichenko 7. Totals 22 (5) 29-40 78.
L&C 14 10 15 23 9–71
Union 15 19 11 17 16–78