Ravens crash regional round of state playoffs

Senior-directed Auburn Riverside bounces Curtis in bi-district play

Basketball often has been known as a game that punishes youth – and rewards experience.

Auburn Riverside’s senior-laden squad hopes that is the case as the Ravens secured a berth to the regional round of the state tournament with a 58-52 win against Curtis in the quarterfinal round of the West Central/Southwest 4A bi-district tournament Friday night at Stadium High School in Tacoma.

The remainder of the tournament will serve for seeding purposes into the regional playoffs, which run Feb. 24-25.

Last season, Auburn Riverside won its first 23 games before its season ended with two consecutive losses, including a 58-48 setback to Edmonds-Woodway in regionals.

“The losses we took back-to-back hurt us a lot,” senior guard Olivia Denton said.

“Being a team that’s mostly full of seniors, this is our last chance. We don’t want to ever feel that feeling again.”

That was the first time in five years that the Ravens (19-5) had advanced to regionals. McKenzi Williams is one of four Auburn Riverside seniors who started, or played extensively, last season.

“Last year, every game of the playoffs we had to pick up and learn 50 new things,” she said.

Williams believes the Ravens learned from that experience, including dealing with the rigors of playing on consecutive nights. Auburn Riverside defeated Kentwood 45-30 on Thursday to advance to the quarterfinal round.

“Two games back-to-back doesn’t mean anything in comparison to four years,” Williams said. “I just want to play.”

Coach Christian Miller thought the wear of playing on consecutive nights showed early as his team did not score until Denton hit a 3-pointer with 3:43 remaining in the first quarter. But the Ravens recovered to build a 26-22 lead at halftime.

“It took us awhile to get our legs back under us,” Miller said.

Williams, who scored a game-high 26 points, was a significant part of that. She opened the fourth quarter with consecutive steals that resulted in layups for herself and sophomore guard Brooke Dye to give Auburn Riverside a 46-34 lead.

“(Williams) was huge for us as always,” Miller said. “She was making things happen on both ends.”

And she had help. Dye hit a 3-pointer with 2:35 remaining that extended the Ravens’ lead to 54-42.

“We all love Brooke Dye,” Miller said. “She’s fearless. Not a lot of girls could go in and take that shot, let alone hit it at that time.”

Despite that, closing out the Vikings (16-7) proved difficult. Curtis forced 18 turnovers during the second half and used them to reduce its deficit to 56-50 when freshman guard Ella Brubaker converted a pair of free throws with 56 seconds remaining.

“We’ve got to close out games better,” Miller said. “We’ve got to work on being strong with the ball late. We can’t give up the ball as often as we did.”

Brubaker then had an opportunity to make it a one-possession game, but she missed a 3-pointer. That forced the Vikings to foul Williams, who converted a pair of free throws to increase Auburn Riverside’s lead to 58-50 with 18 seconds remaining.

“Our overriding theme has been togetherness and mental toughness,” Williams said. “That got us the win.”

The Ravens now are just three games away from their first trip to the Tacoma Dome since they won the 4A state championship in 2010. They next play at 7:45 p.m. Wednesday against Camas at Puyallup High School.

“We’re having fun,” Miller said. “We don’t want to lose and miss out on the next level of going to the Dome.”