Defending champs beat South Kitsap, earn championship rematch with Bethel.

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TACOMA — They read the predictions and heard the talk, until the only thing the Kentwood Conquerors could figure was that folks really had forgotten.

But wasn’t it Kentwood hoisting that big golden ball at the Tacoma Dome last year? And wasn’t it the Conquerors listed in the program as the defending boys basketball state champs?

So why, then, wasn’t anybody giving them more than a third-place chance?

“We heard it all the time, it’s Bethel and South K in the finals,” said senior Aaron Boyce. “We’re not going to apologize to anyone for spoiling that.”

And spoiling that they did. The third-ranked Conquerors (24-5) bullied their way back to the Class 4A state-championship game last night with a 42-36 semifinal stunner of top-ranked South Kitsap (26-2) of Port Orchard at the Tacoma Dome.

Kentwood plays Bethel (27-2) tonight at 9 for the big-school title. Bethel beat Mountlake Terrace in last night’s late semifinal.

JOHN LOK / THE SEATTLE TIMES

South Kitsap’s Joe Pisa, left, and teammate Ryan Sweet show their disappointment as time runs out against Kentwood.

“Everybody doubted us,” said senior Blake Solomon. “But we knew we were going to be back here.”

Last night’s game was a rematch of last year’s title game won by Kentwood 65-56. It was also the second meeting in the past nine days for the two programs. South Kitsap beat Kentwood 61-52 in the semifinals of the West Central/Southwest bi-district tournament on March 2.

“Them beating us last time, we just felt really disrespected because they really took it to us,” said Boyce, who finished with a team-high 16 points, 10 rebounds and three assists. “So we just wanted to come back, not only because it was the semifinals — that game was about pride, too.”

As the final seconds ticked away, Kentwood students chanted: “Just like last year! Just like last year!” And when it was over, Kentwood’s players finished on the court, then ran to the railing behind press row to celebrate with their fans.

“We’ve got one more game to play in,” said Kentwood coach Dean Montzingo. “Tonight was a real satisfying win. The fact that we really got it handed to us the last time we played them in districts, and just the fact that we knew what we needed to do coming in here and the kids executed the plan perfect.”

Defense had a lot to do with the outcome. The Conquerors held the Wolves without a field goal for more than nine minutes of the second half and took control of the game with a 14-0, fourth-quarter run.

The Boyce brothers, Aaron and Austin, combined for eight of those points as Kentwood took a 40-30 lead with 57 seconds remaining. This, after trailing 30-26 to start the final quarter.

South Kitsap made just 4 of 21 shots in the second half (19 percent) and only 13 of 41 (32 percent) in the game. The Wolves shot better than 50 percent in their first two tournament games.

Kentwood also succeeded in containing South Kitsap guard Derrick Webb, who totaled 51 points in the first round and quarterfinals. Webb finished with nine points on 2-of-6 shooting last night.

Jamil Moore tried to pick up the slack, scoring 15, including nine of South Kitsap’s 14 in the second half. It wasn’t enough.

“Their defense was good and offensively, it just seemed like — I don’t know — we just weren’t attacking the basket,” said South Kitsap coach John Callaghan. “It seemed like we were passive a little bit. And they had a little bit to do with that.”

The Wolves, whose only previous loss this season was to Bethel, must now regroup for the third/sixth-place game today at 3:30.

“We had bigger plans,” Callaghan admitted. “But it’s going to be the last game for four of our guys. And our guys have battled all year. I know they’ll come back tomorrow.”