TACOMA — Mike Bethea contemplated the question. Then his answer came — short, sweet and definitive.
“No,” Bethea said to the inquiry of whether he’d considered what he would do next week if things had turned out differently on Saturday night at Mount Tahoma High School.
Bethea and his No. 13 Rainier Beach Vikings boys basketball team earned the right to play in the Class 3A state tournament at the Tacoma Dome beginning Wednesday for the ninth consecutive season. The Vikings beat No. 12 Lincoln of Tacoma in overtime 68-65 in a loser-out regional contest to get there.
Rainier Beach (17-9) opens against No. 5 Evergreen of Vancouver (20-4) at 12:15 p.m. on Wednesday in a first-round, loser-out game.
Figuring out somewhere to be other than the Tacoma Dome the first week of March isn’t a thought that’s had to enter Bethea’s mind since 2011, the last time the Vikings missed out on the Dome.
“I probably got as far from basketball as I could,” Bethea reminisced. “That would have been the plan this year, as well.”
Rainier Beach got back to the tournament this year with a young group that has tasked the coaches with more teaching than has been required in recent seasons.
“We don’t have a single player on this team with any experience playing in the Dome,” Bethea said. “Basically, this team was our JV squad a year ago.”
Only senior guard John Hart was a member of the varsity a year ago, Bethea said. And Hart never played in Tacoma in 2019, having been dismissed from the team 10 games into the season.
Hart was one of two saviors for the Vikings on Saturday.
Though Rainier Beach led the regional contest the entire first half, taking a 34-31 lead into the locker room, Julien Simon scored the first two baskets of the third quarter to give Lincoln its first lead, 35-34.
Moments later, Lincoln would go on a 7-0 run to take a 42-36 advantage that would hold steady between four and six points until there was just 3:39 left in regulation.
Hart cut the lead to 52-48, and just 21 seconds later, Hart scored again. And again, at the 2:55 mark.
With 2:20 to go, the senior stepped behind the three-point line and buried a shot that concluded a personal 9-0 run that put the Vikings back in front 55-52. Rainier Beach led until Daruis Bailey made a layup for the Abes with nine seconds remaining to tie the game 58-58 and send it into overtime.
“It’s just all in the flow of the offense,” said Hart, who finished with a game-high 21 points. “I know when I can get a basket. But I guarantee that’s one of the best runs I’ve had.”
“He was big,” Bethea said of Hart. “But I’ll tell you, the game ball went to Winston Cole. That’s the second big game he’s saved for us.”
Cole didn’t play the minutes other Vikings did on Saturday. But he was in there when it counted, especially during overtime.
Cole forced two bad passes on Lincoln possessions that became turnovers in overtime. And the junior scored four points in the extra time, including making two free throws with 1.7 seconds left that made a desperation three-point attempt by Lincoln’s Reggie Archibald only for a tie rather than a win.
It was the fourth time over the past five seasons that the Vikings have beaten Lincoln in the playoffs, and the second straight year it’s happened in the regional round.
In 2019, both teams already knew they were headed to the Dome as they played a No. 3 vs. No. 6 seeded game, won convincingly by the Vikings, 75-57. Lincoln had never been closer than within six points in any of the three previous games in the streak.
“At least we’re getting closer,” Lincoln coach Ryan Rogers said.