After wearing the "team-to-beat" label for the better part of the past two seasons, the Bethel High boys basketball team finally lived up...

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TACOMA — After wearing the “team-to-beat” label for the better part of the past two seasons, the Bethel High boys basketball team lived up to its billing last night.

And they did so in the grittiest of ways. They played sticky defense, just a little offense, and made their free throws when it counted most.

They did nothing spectacular, but plenty right, and when the final horn sounded at the Tacoma Dome, the Braves from Graham had beaten Kentwood, 33-29, in the Class 4A state championship game.

The victory marked the program’s first title since 1970, and the combined score was the lowest total in the 4A boys championship since 1941.

The Braves accomplished the feat without scoring a field goal in the fourth quarter, instead relying on the clutch foul shooting of senior Jordan Sutton. Sutton made three of four free throws in the final 42.9 seconds to help hold off a late Kentwood charge.

That Bethel (28-2) found itself trying to preserve its lead from the line might have been worrisome to Braves fans, given the team had made 66 percent of its free throws in the tournament’s first three games.

But Sutton said there was no need for stress.

“We’ve worked hard in practice shooting our free throws,” he said after scoring four points, all from the line. “We’re not known to be that good of a free-throw team, but in a state-championship game, that shows everybody that we can win.”

Kentwood (24-6) was foiled in its attempt to win back-to-back crowns, a feat accomplished last week by O’Dea in the 3A tournament.

The Conquerors shot 30 percent (12 of 40) from the field, 56 percent from the foul line (5 of 9) and posted single-digit score totals in all four quarters.

“Both teams played good defense,” Kentwood coach Dean Montzingo said. “We didn’t shoot well. If we shoot a little better, we win this game.”

Bethel never trailed after the first quarter, taking control with a 12-0 run to bridge the first and second periods. Mike Yusko scored six points during the spurt, and Alex Tiefenthaler added five.

The run ended with the Braves up 17-6 early in the second quarter.

Tiefenthaler finished with a game-high 13 points and six rebounds. Yusko had 11 points.

“It’s sinking in right now,” Tiefenthaler said afterward, holding a piece of the championship net. “I’m really excited. It’s the moment of my life right now — best thing in basketball yet for me.”

Kentwood mounted a gutsy comeback early in the fourth quarter as Aaron Boyce scored six of his team-high 12 points in the period, rallying the Conquerors to 30-29 with 1:52 remaining.

But Sutton hit one free throw with 42.9 seconds left, and two more with 10.7 seconds showing to preserve the victory.

Kentwood’s Blake Solomon had a baseline drive denied by Bethel’s twin 6-foot-8 towers, Tiefenthaler and Brandon Moore, with 15 seconds left. And the Conquerors misfired on a pair of three-pointers in the final five seconds, dooming any hope of a comeback. Bethel players mobbed each other at half-court afterward, jumping in a circle, index fingers bobbing toward the rafters.

The Braves finished third at state last year, and lost to Foss in the 2000 title game. This year was their seventh straight state-tournament appearance.

The game marked the last for Bethel’s four-star senior class led by Sutton, Jamil Turner (UCLA for football), Moore (Eastern Washington) and Tiefenthaler (Portland). During the past three seasons, with those players accounting for the bulk of the minutes, the Braves went 76-10.

“I’m so happy. It was our third year here and the seniors went out with a bang,” Moore said. “For our sophomore year, this was our goal. We were going to come here and win the state championship. Each year, we got closer to our goal and finally, got it this year.”

Kentwood had won eight straight state-tournament games dating to 2003. The Conquerors won trophies in each of their previous three trips to Tacoma, finishing seventh in 2000, third in 2003 and first last year.

But last night, in an all-South Puget Sound League championship, Bethel did just enough.

“It would be a failure (if we didn’t win),” said Tiefenthaler of this season. “We had nothing in our minds but to win state. We knew we had to do it, so we did it.”

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KENTWOOD — Aaron Boyce 6-14 0-3 12, Toussaint Tyler 0-2 5-6 5, Blake Solomon 2-12 0-0 4, Austin Boyce 2-5 0-0 4, Matt Mgebroff 2-6 0-0 4, Jared Leopold 0-1 0-0 0, Sean Rock 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 12-40 5-9 29.

BETHEL — Alex Tiefenthaler 5-9 1-2 13, Mike Yusko 4-8 0-0 11, Jamil Turner 1-4 2-2 4, Jordan Sutton 0-7 4-8 4, Brandon Moore 0-2 1-2 1, Ryan Purugganan 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 10-30 8-14 33.

Three-point goals — Kentwood 0-9 (Mgebroff 0-1, Au. Boyce 0-2, Tyler 0-2, Solomon 0-4), Bethel 5-14 (Yusko 3-7, Tiefenthaler 2-3, Sutton 0-4). Rebounds — Kentwood 28 (Aa. Boyce 8), Bethel 24 (Moore 7). Assists — Kentwood 5 (Au. Boyce 3), Bethel 9 (Moore 5). Blocked shots — Kentwood 1 (Mgebroff), Bethel 2 (Yusko, Tiefenthaler). Steals — Kentwood 5 (Mgebroff 2), Bethel 6 (Tiefenthaler 2, Turner 2). Turnovers — Kentwood 11, Bethel 11. Fouls — Kentwood 15, Bethel 10.

Kentwood 6 7 8 8 29
Bethel 14 8 7 4 33

On the down low
The 62 points scored last night made it the lowest scoring 4A boys championship since 1941. It ranks No. 14 all-time. The lowest in total points since 1929:
Pts Championship result Year
49 Ellensburg 26, Renton 23 1932
55 Walla Walla 28, Hoquiam 27 1934
57 Hoquiam 35, Blaine 22 1939
58 Yakima 47, Prescott 11 1935
59 Bremerton 30, St. John 29 1941
60 Valley (Menlo) 32, Hoquiam 28 1936
62 Bethel 33, Kentwood 29 2005
Note: State had one classification for most years before 1946