PUYALLUP — It wasn’t simply that the Evergreen Plainsmen won Thursday night to clinch a spot in Saturday’s 3A bi-district title game that had players and coaches beaming postgame. It was how they won it.
Fighting back after squandering a double-digit lead, finding resilience on the road against a heavily flavored Tacoma fanbase, and clutch performances from players not normally on the floor in late-game situations that willed their way to a win in their biggest game to date.
Forgive coach Brett Henry if his late-game memory is fuzzy — “I’m not even certain what happened, to be honest,” the coach said — because how his Plainsmen won a 75-70 overtime thriller over Mount Tahoma is what made the coach — and players — so proud.
“We found something in us and we stuck together as a family,” said senior Camren Smith. “I don’t know how we did it, but we found it at the end.”
A year after Kelso and Prairie made it an all-3A Greater st. Helens League bi-district title game, Evergreen, this year’s 3A GSHL champ, will play for the bi-district championship. It faces the state’s No. 1-ranked team in RPI, Wilson of Tacoma, at noon Saturday back at Puyallup High School. Wilson topped league-rival Lincoln in the other semifinal at Puyallup on Thursday.
Evergreen’s winning streak hit 13 games Thursday, and it came in the tallest of tasks. Mario Herring’s coast-to-coast lay-in with 2.3 seconds left sent the game into overtime at 61-all after Evergreen squandered a 10-point halftime lead — its largest lead at one stretch was 32-19 — and traded leads with Mount Tahoma 11 times the final 10 minutes of regulation. The Thunderbirds’ interior size with Leo Ruiz and Lezjuan Harris helped the T-Birds rally back and take their first lead at 39-38 with 2:14 left in the third quarter, and again at 59-57 with 23 seconds to play in regulation.
But bench play is where Evergreen shined brightest in the biggest moments.
All-league point guard Jaden Stanley (hand) missed much of the second half, and Evergreen didn’t make a fourth-quarter substitution until senior Zyell Griffin fouled out with 6:10 to play. But key performances by Smith (15 points), Izaac Romero (15) and Peyton Albers (3) helped lead the way.
Albers entered the game for the first time when Tyler Ricketts fouled out in overtime of a tie game. Two possessions later, Alberts drained a corner 3 then had the assist on Romero’s lay-in that gave Evergreen a 73-68 lead with 21 seconds left in overtime.
Albers is one a number of teammates commented on his work ethic improving his game. It paid off in a big way.
“Peyton is a big guy,” Smith said. “He doesn’t play much, but he does hit part when he gets in the game, and so do I when I come in. It’s just a family thing we do.”
Step-up moments by the bench has players like Carter Monda, who had 13 points, learning more about their team is capable of after a win like Thursday.
“We came into here thinking we have a seven-man rotation,” Monda said, “and now we have a nine-man rotation. It’s pretty cool to see them come up after not playing all year, not getting minutes, not getting shots. … That’s why I love it.”
EVERGREEN 75, MOUNT TAHOMA 70
EVERGREEN — Camren Smith 15, Izaac Romero 15, Jaden Stanley 10, Zyell Griffin 4, Tyler Ricketts 2, Mario Herring 13, Peyton Albers 3, Carter Monda 13. Totals 25 (7) 18-27 75.
MOUNT TAHOMA — Josh Joseph 23, Eloheim Johnson 2, Ryan Tran 2, Jayvon Tate 5, Asjon Anderson 21, Leo Ruiz 10, Lezjaun Harris 21. Totals 25 (4) 19-25 70.
Evergreen 9 23 11 17 14 – 75
Mt. Tahoma 11 11 22 17 9 – 70