LONGVIEW — Whether it was noise they heard from others or something they told themselves, the Ridgefield boys basketball team felt like an underdog this season.
It made sense, because the Spudders graduated four of five starters and a total of seven rotation players from last year’s team.
And yet, one year later, Ridgefield just pulled off a feat the program hasn’t seen in over a decade.
The Spudders’ 54-30 win over Black Hills on Thursday at Mark Morris High in the 2A district tournament sealed a bid to next week’s regional round of the 2A state tournament, joining Tumwater, R.A. Long and Mark Morris out of District 4. Ridgefield’s last trip to state was in 2012.
For a team that was on the postseason bubble for much of the regular season, the result exceeded the expectations of many.
“Knowing that we weren’t expected to be here in the first place,” junior Cole Chester said, “making state feels pretty good.”
The winner-to-state, loser-out district playoff game was the same place Ridgefield saw its season end last year in a 48-44 loss to W.F. West.
This year’s postseason path started with a loss to Tumwater, before the Spudders responded on Tuesday by knocking off the same W.F. West team to set up Thursday’s win-or-go-home game.
“I felt so bad for those guys. I was a wreck,” Ridgefield coach Jason Buffum said of last year’s team. “I told these guys tonight, ‘you’re not supposed to be here. We’re playing with house money. We got a chance to do something special’ … and they were like, ‘yeah, let’s do it.’ Last year, I think there was a lot of pressure on us to be successful.”
With the pressure seemingly turned down on the Spudders, they thrived in a wire-to-wire win.
Four players reached double digits in scoring led by Sid Bryant’s 14 points with Chester and Colton Warren each adding 11 and Landson Kelsey adding 10 points.
“My guys battled, they brought it,” Buffum said. “They made some tough shots and made some out-of-character plays that were big. … Everybody that played contributed.”
Their efforts reflected a balanced attack that featured several players taking the reins for stretches.
In the first quarter, Warren hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer and added two more shots from deep in the second quarter to help Ridgefield gain a 25-14 halftime lead.
Kelsey scored eight of the Spudders’ 10 points in the third quarter and the team’s defensive efforts helped prevent Black Hills from putting together a run Ridgefield was anticipating.
“Landon, he’s stepped up a lot,” Bryant said. “He’s just made himself a presence. It’s great to see.”
In the fourth, Bryant, Ridgefield’s only returning starter from last season, closed out the game by crashing the boards on both ends and scoring 10 points in the quarter to put the finishing touches on the win.
“That was huge for us,” Chester said. “We needed somebody to step up. We lost one of our starters (Colten Castro) for a couple months. Them stepping up really helped us out.”
Based on the WIAA’s current RPI rankings in 2A boys basketball, Buffum anticipates Ridgefield will be one of, if not the lowest seed among 16 teams to advance to regionals. That means, once again, the Spudders will be the underdog. They don’t seem to mind that position.
“I’m feeling so happy right now,” Bryant said. “It’s been a long season. I’m ready to win.”
RIDGEFIELD 54, BLACK HILLS 30
BLACK HILLS (15-8) — Simon Nysted 0, Max Johnson 0, Johnnie Stallings 4, Xander Shepler 2, Talon Morrill 0, Jace Cedargreen 0, Quinton Morrill 0, Jack Ellison 4, Ricky Moreno 0, Keagan Rongen 13, Bronson Campbell 0, Harrison Pilon 7, Jaxson Beck 0. Totals 11 (1) 7-8 30.
RIDGEFIELD (13-9) — Sid Bryant 14, Colton Warren 11, Jamison McCann 0, Cole Chester 11, Landon Kelsey 10, Carter Thompson 0, Drew Krsul 3, Jack Hughes 0, Jalen Dunn 3, Mason Curran 2, Damion Jiles 0. Totals 20 (5) 4-9 54.
Black Hills 4 10 10 6—30
Ridgefield 12 13 10 19—54