Kentwood HC Blake Solomon holds his arm in the air in celebration after beating Olympia. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Kentwood HC Blake Solomon holds his arm in the air in celebration after beating Olympia. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Kentwood boys take fourth inside Tacoma Dome

Conks go 3-1 and take fourth in a convincing 22-point win over Skyview.

Head Coach Blake Solomon took a risk rolling with a roster and rotation of underclassmen.

That risk has paid dividends for the Kentwood High School boys basketball side as they placed fourth March 2 with a convincing win over Skyview, 69-57, to secure the Conks’ first trophy since winning state back in 2017.

Kentwood entered as the eighth seed in the round of 12 and took on an Olympia squad that they had beaten almost two weeks prior in the district tournament.

The Conks took care of business and moved on to the quarterfinals against Richland with a 47-40 win over the Bears. Kentwood entered the matchup against Olympia coming off two straight losses, something that hasn’t happened since mid-December.

“We had a tough go in the tournament with scheduling, but that is what we want, to play in big games. We didn’t perform as well as we wanted, but our confidence never wavered. Our guys had a belief that we could come in here and play all four days,” Solomon said.

In the first quarter, the two sides were looking for an edge. After taking a 10-7 lead heading to the second quarter, Kentwood just fell flat. The Conks put up seven points in the entire second quarter and missed all 10 three-pointers in the first half.

For a team that relies on shooting the ball, Kentwood struggled to find their shot inside the Tacoma Dome. But those woes only lasted for so long. Maybe the lack of experience played a role of having almost too much juice: “I think we were too wound up. We don’t have anybody on the team who had played here before and we just needed to settle in,” said Solomon.

Kentwood came out with a vengeance in the second half and stifled Olympia’s offense. After scoring 17 points in the second quarter, the Bears were held to 16 points the entire second half.

“It shows that we were here to compete. We all have the same common goal to win,” Brandon Tagle said.

Senior Blake Stempniak hit a pair of three-pointers in the third to really get Kentwood back in the game. As the lone senior on the Kentwood roster with his career hanging in the balance, he wanted nothing less than to get his team a win.

“At this time seniors gotta make plays. I think Blake didn’t want his career to end and he came out and made three three-pointers in the second half. That is what state playoffs is all about, seniors making big plays,” Solomon said.

Sophomore point guard Brandon Tagle also made some big shots down the stretch, one to take the lead and another to secure it.

“My confidence was at an all-time high, I knew the next one was going to go in and when it did I was so happy. That really gave us the momentum that we needed,” Tagle said.

Kentwood took momentum from that Feb. 28 game into the following day against Richland, but were met with one of, if not the best performance from any team in the state tournament ever.

To say Richland was efficient might be an understatement in their 80-64 victory over the Conks. The Bombers played a near perfect game and there wasn’t much the Conks could do to slow them down.

“We told our guys in the locker room you can’t prepare for what is going to happen. It’s one of those thing where if they shoot 55% instead of 70%, the score looks a little different. They’re a very good basketball team,” Solomon said after the Richland loss.

In the first half, Richland shot 71.4% from the field, and for the game they shot 69.1%. Those efficiency numbers are off the chart, and the Bombers averaged 1.5 points per possession, a tournament high.

On the offensive side of the ball, Kentwood was finding some success. But the rate that Richland was scoring made it seem like Kentwood was never in the game.

After the game Stempniak was reflecting on the fight his team showed, despite being down by 20 points for essentially the entire game.

“I’m happy the guys didn’t give up in probably one of my last games. It is just tough to go out like that, 70% is ridiculous. I was just hoping they would miss once so I could try to get a rebound,” Stempniak said.

Kentwood also was at a size disadvantage, but they have battled through those types of challenges all season. This night was Richland’s night and Kentwood would have to battle through the consolation bracket to come out with a trophy.

And in Kentwood’s next game, they took on third seeded Gonzaga prep on March 1 and was just the better side overall. Kentwood’s Corey Tita, Tagle and Stempniak all had over 16 points in the 72-68 win.

The Conks torched the Bullpups from beyond the arc. Kentwood shot 11 for 21 (52.4%) from three-point land was the best percentage of any team that shot more than 20 attempts in a game.

Kentwood followed up that performance with the fourth best shooting percentage in the fourth-place game against eleventh seeded Skyview.

Outside of being outrebounded by a higher margin than Richland the day before, the Conks were better than Gonzaga Prep in nearly every category.

The final game of the Conquerors’ season came down to a fourth-place game against the Skyview Storm.

Kentwood and the Storm had never matched up in the state tournament and this game got out to an interesting competitive start. Kentwood trailed Skyview 9-8 after the first quarter, and then went on a 16-4 run in the second quarter to take the lead going into halftime, 26-19.

Kentwood’s offense continued to do the job and their defense kept the Storm at bay. Mason St. Louis had his best game of the tournament with 22 points and seven rebounds, while Tagle had 15 points, seven rebounds and three assists. Stempniak in his final game in a Kentwood uniform had six points, four rebounds and two assists.

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Sophomore Brandon Tagle shows emotion after beating Olympia in the round of 12. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Sophomore Brandon Tagle shows emotion after beating Olympia in the round of 12. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Blake Stempniak goes up for a shot attempt against the Richland Bombers. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Blake Stempniak goes up for a shot attempt against the Richland Bombers. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Corey Tita takes a mid-range shot against Richland. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Corey Tita takes a mid-range shot against Richland. Ben Ray / The Reporter

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