Dez Daniel celebrated his 16th birthday earlier this week.
But it was the sophomore guard who provided the biggest gift to the Evergreen boys basketball team.
Daniel scored 41 points, including two key late free throws, as the Plainsmen held off a determined Yelm team 73-69 in a Class 3A bi-district loser-out playoff game on Saturday.
“Dez was special today,” Evergreen coach Brett Henry said. “Forty-one is pretty impressive. He’s our guy.”
Daniel had 24 points in the first half as Evergreen took a 34-29 lead into halftime.
Daniel’s drive in the lane late in the third quarter gave the Plainsmen an 11-point lead they would take into the fourth quarter.
But the Tornados (5-15) would not go away.
“They are a prideful program,” Henry said. “They’ve had a lot of state success in football, and there are nine football guys out on the court for them. We knew they weren’t going to quit.”
Marius Aalona hit three 3-pointers to open the fourth quarter and Alex Segarra added another to cut Evergreen’s lead to 63-62.
But Daniel knocked down a 3-pointer of his own and Arthur Ban followed with a breakaway dunk that put the Plainsmen back up 68-62.
Yelm got back within 68-67 with 20 seconds to play before Evergreen broke the Tornados’ press and sealed the win by making five of six free throws.
“That was critical,” Henry said of the free throws. “We hit a rough stretch last week with free throws, but now we’re back.”
Evergreen (13-8) advanced to play another loser-out game at Gig Harbor on Wednesday. The Plainsmen need two more wins next week to secure a state playoff berth.