TACOMA — The Union Titans acknowledged there were tears of joy in the locker room Friday evening at the Tacoma Dome.
They were, after all, sick of feeling sad at the Class 4A state boys basketball tournament.
In their third consecutive trip to the dome, the Titans have reached the state championship game.
Cameron Cranston scored with 3.2 seconds left to lift Union to a 63-61 victory over Richland in the semifinals.
“It was super emotional, just seeing everyone so happy,” Cranston said.
“It was emotional for all of us because we are so close,” added Tyler Combs. “Just big for us.”
Union (21-4) will take on Kentwood (25-3) at 9 p.m. Saturday for the title.
The Titans got there by surviving a thrilling contest with the Bombers that featured nine lead changes and six ties in the second half.
Cranston scored the final of his 25 points off a feed from Jason Franklin Jr. to give the Titans the lead. They endured a long 3-point attempt from Richland that bounced off the rim at the final horn, then raced to embrace each other.
Cranston overcame a tough start, and Combs added 14 points, including a big 3-pointer late. The Titans also got huge contributions from Austin Lewis and Kai Gamble, players who excel at their roles without the spotlight.
That is how the Titans won 20 games this season, so they continued what worked for them in the 21st win of the season.
Gamble grabbed an offensive rebound midway through the fourth quarter, then found Combs for a 3-pointer to give Union a 56-53 lead. After a basket from Richland’s 7-foot, 3-inch Riley Sorn, Cranston swished a 3-pointer for a four-point Union lead.
That just opened the door for another Richland rally. The Bombers would tie it on Ryan Wagar’s 3-pointer with just more than two minutes to play. From there, defenses ruled … until the final seconds.
Cranston’s 24th field goal attempt was blocked with seven seconds left. The Bombers got the rebound but stepped out of bounds, giving Union one more chance to break the tie.
Cranston inbounded the ball to Franklin, then broke for the basket. No one followed him. Game-winner.
“Coaches. Have to give all the credit to the coaches, making the right play call,” Cranston said. “And Jason executing perfectly, passing to me for the wide-open lay-up. Couldn’t have executed it better.”
Richland’s half-court pass was on target, followed by a quick pass to Cody Sanderson. But his shot was just off.
“It was pretty scary,” Cranston said.
“You never know,” Combs said.
Until it was over, of course. Then it was time for the Titans to celebrate.
“I’m just so happy for our guys. They are so pumped,” Union coach Blake Conley said. “Just to see how excited they were at the end of the game, that’s just one of the reasons you coach. They are such an unselfish group. It’s going to be a really fun day tomorrow.”
Lewis set the tone early for Union, going up strong against Sorn, attacking the rim, fighting for rebounds.
“It’s not every day you go up against a 7-3 kid,” Lewis said. “It was very different. I felt our team adjusted. We stuck to the team plan. We trusted.”
While Richland would get more rebounds, Union ended up with more offensive rebounds.
“Anything to help the team, I’m going to do,” Gamble said. “Sacrifice my body, go for the rebound, just doing the dirty work. I love it. I don’t mind.”
Neither do his teammates.
“I just remember someone kicking it out to me and just being wide open,” Combs said, referring to that Gamble board and pass. “I just let it go, and it went in.”
Conley understands the value of players such as Lewis and Gamble.
“These guys are our glue guys. They keep so many plays alive,” Conley said. “These guys are huge. We don’t win this game without them.”
Cole Northrop had five 3-pointers and led four Richland players in double figures with 16 points. The Bombers’ biggest lead of the game was seven, in the first quarter.
Combs and Zach Reznick closed the first quarter strong for the Titans, making it a three-point game.
Cranston, who missed his first seven shots, had 10 points in the second quarter, pulling Union within a point.
The second half started with a 3-pointer from Cranston, the first of all those lead changes in a game worthy of the final four.
The Titans lost a similar contest in this same spot two years ago. They reached the quarterfinals last season.
And this year?
“We are going to the championship,” Cranston said, a big smile on his face.
UNION 63, RICHLAND 61
RICHLAND — Paxton Stevens 0, Ryan Wagar 9, Cody Sanderson 10, Tyler Kurtz 14, Cole Nortrop 16, Garrett Streufert 0, Riley Sorn 12. Totals 23-47 (8-20) 7-15 61.
UNION — Keithen Shepard 4, Zach Reznick 9, Tyler Combs 14, Quinn Lamey 0, Austin Lewis 9, Jalen Brown 0, Kai Gamble 2, Cameron Cranston 25, Jason Franklin Jr. 0, Cole Susee 0. Totals 24-66 (5-16) 10-13 63.
Richland 20 12 18 11–61
Union 17 14 16 16–63