TACOMA — Brent Merritt admitted the situation probably merited something more.
His top-ranked Eastside Catholic Crusaders were listless. They continued to trail a Rainier Beach basketball team that they’d already beaten twice this season.
“I never panicked,” the Crusaders coach said. “I should have.”
Turned out, there was no need.
Eastside Catholic (25-4) overcame a seven-point deficit in the final 4 minutes, 52 seconds, and got a game-winning basket from Chika Nduka to earn third place at the Class 3A state boys basketball tournament, 73-72 over the Vikings on Saturday afternoon at the Tacoma Dome.
After a solid first quarter during which Eastside Catholic built a 19-10 lead, the Crusaders began to struggle defensively. The Vikings (19-11) took advantage, scoring 29 points in the second quarter to wrest control away.
“Our energy was low,” Eastside Catholic senior Syon Blackmon said. “But we just stuck to it. It was a little bit of everybody.”
Four Crusaders scored in double figures. Nolan Hickman and JT Tuimoloau shared team-high scoring honors with 18 each, while Blackmon added 17.
That offset a big final game from Rainier Beach senior John Hart, who poured in a game-high 32 points to go with six rebounds, three assists and three steals.
Rainier Beach took a 39-38 lead at the half. The Vikings extended that lead to 55-52 entering the fourth quarter. And when Nahmir Robinson, son of Beach legend Nate Robinson, made 1 of 2 free throws with 5:16 left, Rainier Beach was in control, 63-56.
Tuimoloau started the comeback for Eastside Catholic, scoring inside with 4:52 to play. That ignited an 8-0 rally that put Eastside Catholic back in front for the first time since the first quarter, 64-63.
The lead changed hands eight more times down the stretch.
The last lead change came with 15.6 seconds left, when Nduka drove the right side to score. After a timeout, Rainier Beach inbounded the ball.
It took the Vikings 11 seconds to get the ball into position. With four seconds left, Robinson tried to drive to the basket, but got too far under the backboard to get a good shot off.
“Still a great way to go out,” said coach Mike Bethea, whose team was seeded 13th. “We had a chance to win a game at the buzzer, against a team that was No. 1 pretty much all year. In a down year, we finish fifth in state. I know for some teams, that would be a major accomplishment.”
Eastside Catholic looked at it slightly differently.
“Probably the hardest game of the year to play,” said Merritt, whose team lost to Garfield in the semifinals on Friday. “Such a letdown. We knew we were going to win it all this year. That was the goal. We knew it.”
4th/6th: Wilson 71, Kamiakin 62
The No. 2 Rams (23-4) came from behind with a 47-point second half to beat the No. 6 Braves (21-5), which shot 54 percent in the first half and built a 28-24 lead after the first 16 minutes.
But Kamiakin was outdone in the shooting department by the Rams in the second half. Wilson made 12 of 21 shots, outscored the Braves 24-7 at the free-throw line, and wrested control of the game with a 25-16 third-quarter run.
Emani Mitchell led all scorers — and three Rams in double figures — with 21 points. He also had six assists. Messiah Jones made 7 of 12 shots and finished with a team-high 19 points for Kamiakin. Jones had a double-double with his 10 rebounds.
First team — Tari Eason, Garfield (MVP); Paolo Banchero, O’Dea; Koren Johnson, Garfield; John Hart, Rainier Beach; Nolan Hickman, Eastside Catholic.
Second team — J.T. Tuimoloau, Eastside Catholic; Braeden Smith, Seattle Prep; Kyson Rose, Kamiakin; Cameron Stordahl, Marysville-Pilchuck; Damani Green, Wilson; Tyson Degenhart, Mount Spokane.
Coach — Brandon Roy, Garfield.
3rd/5th: Arlington 61, Eastside Catholic 57
The No. 3 Eagles (23-3) handed No. 1 Crusaders (26-3) their second consecutive loss, coming from behind to take third.
Until Friday night’s semifinal against Lake Washington, Eastside Catholic had won all the games it had played against in-state competition.
The Eagles got 24 points from Hailey Hiatt, who made five three-pointers. Malia Samuels scored a team-high 19 points and grabbed eight rebounds for Eastside Catholic.
4th/6th: Mount Spokane 61, Bethel 45
The No. 4 Wildcats (21-4) erased the memory of its quarterfinal upset loss to Lake Washington, winning for the second straight day to capture fourth with a victory over the No. 2 Braves (24-3).
The Wildcats jumped in front early, built a 19-7 lead after one quarter and maintained the advantage despite the best efforts of the Braves scoring duo of Esme Morales and Tiarra Brown.
Morales led all scorers with 17 points, and she added five assists. Brown scored 14 points, matching Gracey Neal’s output that led Mount Spokane. The Wildcats had four players score in double figures in a balanced attack. Neal and Jayda Noble added seven rebounds each for the Wildcats.
First team — Meghan Fiso, Garfield (MVP); Rosa Smith, Lake Washington; Dalayah Daniels, Garfield; Sophia Liesse Lake Washington; Zaza Walton, Eastside Catholic.
Second team — Emeralda Morales, Bethel; Tiarra Brown, Bethel; Jayda Nobel, Mount Spokane; Hailey Haitt, Arlington; Molly Moffitt, Seattle Prep.
Coach — Jeff Wilson, Lake Washington.