KENNEWICK - Wa-Hi charged to a 13-4 lead in the first quarter and never trailed on the way to defeating Kamiakin, 51-45, in a winner-to-state, loser-out game at the boys Class 4A Eastern Regional Championships at the Toyota Center Saturday afternoon.
Wa-Hi, 22-5, earned a ticket to the Class 4A state tournament at the Tacoma Dome beginning Wednesday.
Kamiakin finished its season at 19-7.
Although Wa-Hi led the Braves 15-7 at the first-quarter break, 28-19 at halftime and 38-30 after three quarters, the final period turned into a nail-biter.
With 3:09 left in the game, Kamiakin's Tyler Holle scored his ninth point of the period and cut Wa-Hi's lead to two points, 43-41.
For the second game in a row, Wa-Hi's Gary Winston took on a "bigger role" down the stretch.
Winston score six-unanswered points, including a steal and a coast-to-coast drive for a lay-in, to boost the Blue Devils' lead back to eight points, 49-41, with 41 seconds left in the game.
Kamiakin then scored twice, after a pair of Blue Devil turnovers, that cut the deficit to 49-45 with 18 seconds to play.
With 12 seconds on the clock, Wa-Hi's Seth Alden came away with a key rebound. He drew a foul and sank a pair of free throws to end the game's scoring and seal the victory at 51-45.
It was a big comeback for the Blue Devils. They lost to Kamiakin in district play and lost on the road to Gonzaga Prep, which meant they needed two consecutive wins to claim their ticket to state.
"After the loss to Kamiakin in the district, we told these guys that there's another way in," Wa-Hi coach John Golden said. "And our guys went up to Gonzaga Prep and competed for three quarters on Tuesday, but it wasn't enough.
"We knew there was still another way to get there, and we've done it before (win two at the Toyota Center)," he said.
"I'm so proud of them and so happy for them," Golden said. "Nine seniors, and they've played in big games before, but nothing bigger than this. Any time you play a win-or-go-home game, which we did Friday and today, you really see the character in your team.
"It was a battle. Give Kamiakin credit, and (Tyler) Holle got hot, with a couple of 3s and a lay-in at the end. And we didn't have an answer for him," Golden said. "Our division is so tough. We've played 27 games, and we haven't even gone to state yet. Just getting out of this regional is brutal."
Winston led all scorers with 23 points, nine in the fourth quarter, and with four assists.
"I've only been to state one time, so I wanted to go one more time," a happy Winston said. "We just battled hard, and everything came out the way we wanted it. We wanted to beat Kamiakin, because they beat us twice. And those games counted, but not as much as this one.
"We're experienced, and we've been to state," he said. "And they're still young (no seniors on the team), so we knew we could get it done.
"It will be fun going to state for our last high school games."
Holle led Kamiakin with 19 points, and Garrett Anderson pulled off nine rebounds.
Michael Weisner scored 11 points and tied for game-high rebounding honors with nine.
"It was such a hard-fought game," Weisner said. "It was the fourth time that we've played them. Everyone knew everything about each other. It was just a great game. Both teams played hard. I'm just thankful that we came out on top.
"With all of the expectations so high for us, it's just really great to make it to state," Weisner added. "It was a good team effort by everyone."
Ryan James, who spent the game battling under the boards and playing defense, agreed.
"That was awesome, especially after the disappointing football season," a smiling James said. "And then getting beat by Kamiakin twice left a bad taste in out mouths. So we wanted to come out and get this one. The trip to state was right there, and we really wanted that.
"Jumping out to the big lead was huge," he said. "It obviously paid off in the end. I don't think we ever gave up the lead, so that was huge. It was a big deal.
"It got real close at the end, and I expected that," James said. "They're a good team. They're going to be really good next year.
There was one lead change and one tie after Kamiakin scored first and led 2-0.
Wa-Hi defenders limited the Braves to 30-percent shooting from the floor, 15-of-50, while the Blue Devils shot 47.5 percent, 19-for-40.
The Braves won the rebounding edge, 32-24.
Wa-Hi's biggest lead of the game came in the second quarter, 26-13.
"I'm so proud of my guys," Golden said. "They came to play, and they got off to that great start.
"There was no denying Gary," he continued. "Friday, he held us together and pulled us through in the fourth quarter.
"Today, he was just unbelievable, with guys draped all over him," Golden said. "We had great performances, like Seth Alden hitting the two free throws at the end. He played great Friday. Matt Watson gave us good minutes. Ryan James and Colton Arias were great tonight.
"I'm just proud of the way they played," Golden said.
"These guys are believing in themselves. Now we can look ahead a little bit and figure out what we have to do to get ready to go on Tuesday."
Winston received first-team boys all-tournament honors, and Weisner received second-team honors.
Gonzaga Prep's Ryan Nicholas received the boys tournament MVP honors.
KAMIAKIN (45) - Hayfield 0-4 2-2 2, Rada 4-12 0-0 10, Holle 5-14 7-8 19, Fletcher 1-5 2-2 4, Anderson 0-6 0-0 0, Hunt 1-3 0-0 2, Pedley 4-6 0-0 8. Totals 15-50 11-12 45.
WA-HI (51) - Winston 8-15 5-6 23, Aguiar 0-1 0-0 0, Porter 0-0 0-0 0, Arias 4-7 0-0 8, Weisner 4-9 2-2 11, James 2-5 0-0 5, Alden 1-3 2-2 4, Watson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 19-40 9-10 51.
Kamiakin 7 12 11 15 - 45
Wa-Hi 15 13 10 13 - 51
3-point goals - Kamiakin 4-19 (Hayfield 0-3, Rada 2-5, Holle 2-8, Fletcher 0-1, Hunt 0-1, Pedley 0-1), Wa-Hi 4-13 (Winston 2-2, Aguiar 0-1, Arias 0-3, Weisner 1-3, James 1-3, Alden 0-1 ). Total fouls - Kamiakin 10, Wa-Hi 17. Fouled out - Kamiakin (None), Wa-Hi (Arias). Technical fouls - None. Rebounds - Kamiakin 32 (Anderson 9), Wa-Hi 24 (Weisner 9). Turnovers - Kamiakin 15, Wa-Hi 15. Assists - Kamiakin 7 (Anderson 3), Wa-Hi 8 (Winston 4).