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'It's like walking in new territory:' Tahoma boys surging into first state appearance after regional road win over No. 4 Kamiakin

Joey Hassman and Adam Davis caught fire from deep, but Cooper Church's defensive effort on Kamiakin's Oregon State pledge made the difference

RICHLAND, Wash. — If Tahoma has an imposing big in the opponent scout, chances are, it's 6-foot-9 senior forward Cooper Church's assignment.

On Saturday, when the Bears traveled across the state for its first regional playoff game since 1981, with its first-ever berth to state in program history secured, Church faced a tall task: guarding Kamiakin's 6-foot-9, Oregon State-bound big man Tyler Bilodeau.

While Bilodeau, the two-time Mid-Columbia Conference MVP, led all scorers with 21 points, no shot attempt, rebound or bucket came easy.

That helped make the difference as No. 5 Tahoma beat No. 4 Kamiakin 54-51 in a 4A regional playoff game to secure a first round state tournament bye.

"I think that it was personal for him," Tahoma coach Rick Tripp said. "He's jumped in and out of the recruiting radar because he doesn't score. Tonight, without him, we don't win."

(Washington high school state basketball scoreboard)

Church's contributions don't jump off the box score. He finished with four points on four shot attempts and nine boards — and the right amount of grit for the low-scoring defensive battle.

"He doesn't put all the things in the stat sheet but he does all the things that make us win. And he's just an awesome leader, awesome teammate for that matter."

Every ounce effort has been needed during the Bears' late-season push, which included a run to the bi-district title game.

Kamiakin led by as many as nine, but trailed by two possessions in the final minutes until Jacob Bilodeau's corner 3 cut the Bears' lead to one — 52-51 — with 1:23 to play.

On the next possession, Tahoma sophomore cut into a crowded key, pivoted and hit a turnaround jumper from the free throw line to push the lead back to three.

Kamiakin coach Brian Meneely called time and drew up a play that gave senior point guard Nate Gray Jr. a look at a potentially game-tying corner 3 with 10 seconds left, but it rimmed off , Church tipped the rebound to Gavin Garcia and the Bears dribbled out the clock.

Davis and guard Joey Hassman each led Tahoma with 15 points. Hassman hit 5 of 8 3-point attempts and Davis had three more as the Bears shot better from behind the arc (47.6 percent) than it did from inside (26.3 percent). Carson Talbert, who shot just 5 of 17 from the field against Kamiakin's length and attention, added 11 and 12 boards.

Tahoma gets the winner of Olympia and Mariner in the quarterfinals on Thursday at 3:45 p.m.

Kamiakin (19-4), which has dropped three of its last six games, faces 12-seed Central Valley in the first round of on Wednesday at 7:15 p.m. in the Tacoma Dome.

"Credit them, I thought in the last three minutes they made some tough shots," Kamiakin head coach Brian Meneely said. "But we allowed them to feel good about themselves for the first 29 minutes, and you can't do that."

Tahoma's postgame locker room celebration reverberated off of the walls inside Art Dawald Gym. When the players exited, they all flashed smiles while greeted by a traveling cohort of parents and supporters clad in yellow and blue.

Church's smile turned into a sigh of relief.

"It's like walking in new territory," Church said. "It's something we've never experienced and we're just going to embrace it. We worked so hard together growing up, we've all played since like third grade. It's just so good to see it all come together.

"Came all the way out here, and it's good to take home a dub."


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Carson Talbert (No. 30) and Adam Davis (14) box out Kamiakin's Trey Arland in Tahoma's 54-51 4A regional playoff win.
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