Sophomore Brandon Tagle drives to the hoop in the second half. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Sophomore Brandon Tagle drives to the hoop in the second half. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Kentwood boys basketball makes state for first time since 2020

Conks needed an extra quarter to get past SPSL champs Sumner on the road.

The Kentwood High School boys hoops team, which has been an underdog in big games all year, had a chance to shock the South Puget Sound League (SPSL) champion Sumner in the opening round of the West Central District Tournament.

Since the North Puget Sound League formed again in 2016, the third seed has a 2-4 record against the top SPSL seed.

“We call it kind of the seed of death. This was our first time since 2020 playing in a game we thought we could get to go to state,” said Kentwood Coach Blake Solomon said.

Coming into this matchup on Feb. 10, Kentwood had won 10 of its last 11 games and five in a row. The Conks had already matched up with Sumner on this current 2023-24 campaign back on Dec. 16.

In that first dance, Kentwood led by 15 at half and allowed Sumner back in the game and eventually fell by three. This time around, the Conks had one thing in mind — winning.

Kentwood needed every bit of the clock and then some, overcoming an eight-point, fourth-quarter deficit, and won the game in overtime, 58-57.

The Conks got off on a really strong note in a tough environment. All five Kentwood starters recorded points in the first frame. Kentwood closed out the first quarter with a 18-15 lead, and one of those starters was freshman Brent Simmons. He has really impressed Solomon and earned his starting five spot.

Playing spoiler to the Sumner party was just part of the job description.

“I enjoyed it the whole time,” said Simmons. “Playing with them as a first year varsity player has been a dream.”

“He’s a freak athlete... His activity defensively was great,” Solomon said.

One part of the game that helped give Kentwood some energy — they had at least five blocks on Sumner shots.

“Our guys stepped up and defensively did a really good job,” Solomon said.

Sumner built a little momentum heading into the second quarter and capitalized on some Kentwood mistakes. Kentwood scored just seven points in the second quarter and Sumner took a three-point 28-25 lead. The crowd was 90% Sumner and provided a unique atmosphere for Kentwood.

“It’s everybody versus us. The whole building is packed with Sumner fans. We had to stay connected through this entire game and that is what we did,” Brandon Tagle said.

Kentwood had a third quarter to forget, struggling to score double digits again. The environment was starting to smother the Conks, but they put together one of the best fourth quarters of a Solomon coached team in a while.

If this was an NBA Jam video game, Corey Tita would have been on fire the entire fourth quarter. Kentwood was down 41-33, but on the back of Tita, they got right back in the game.

Tita led all scorers with 13 points in the fourth quarter. Blake Stempniak was the only other Conk to score with six monumental points.

“Seeing him have his moment on an assist by me, a freshman, was crazy. I had 100% confidence, he’s our best shooter on the team,” Simmons said.

With 16 seconds left in the game, Kentwood trailed 52-49. Stempniak drilled the game-tying three-pointer with three seconds remaining. He is the lone senior on the Kentwood roster and has had moments this year to make a big shot and has fallen short.

“He hit a really big shot. I felt bad for him early in the year because he had an open look against Tahoma and missed it... He didn’t get much going early offensively, but he hit some really big shots late. That’s what a senior is supposed to do. We relied on him and he came through,” Solomon said.

Stempniak’s three-pointer sent the game to overtime, and Brandon Tagle took over from that moment forward. Going into overtime, Tagle had just two points. But in the last 30 seconds, he scored four points.

“I knew he was going to make the lay-up, just let him work,” Simmons said.

Kentwood trailed 57-54 with 21 seconds to go, and Tagle euro-stepped his way to his first lay-up. After two missed free throws on Sumner’s next possession, Solomon trusted Tagle with the ball in his hands. The sophomore drove to his right and picked the ball up for another euro-step and finished with his right hand with 0.4 seconds left on the cloc, sealing the 58-57 win.

Postgame, Solomon was fired up, even going to the mats underneath the basket and smacking them with his hand. But the realization that the picture was coming into focus was something that fired him up.

“We went really young and the reason for that was for this moment right here. We could have kept some seniors and delayed some growth. But we decided to do it and built it. That was a let out of two years of buildup,” Solomon said.

Kentwood is one of three NPSL teams in the district semifinals joining Federal Way and Tahoma. Kentwood has been a special group, and they are on the verge of a district title for the first time since 2017.

“We’re ready for anything, whoever we play, whenever we play, I know me and my guys are going to show up,” Tagle said.

If the Conks are chosen as a top eight team in the state going into the regional round they have a guaranteed spot in the Tacoma Dome. Kentwood faces Olympia at Federal Way on Feb. 15 (after press time).

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Blake Stempniak driving to the rack with a Sumner Spartan defending him on the perimeter. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Blake Stempniak driving to the rack with a Sumner Spartan defending him on the perimeter. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Corey Tita makes a free throw, one of his 13 fourth quarter points. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Corey Tita makes a free throw, one of his 13 fourth quarter points. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Blake Stempniak sizes up a three pointer in the corner at Sumner High. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Blake Stempniak sizes up a three pointer in the corner at Sumner High. Ben Ray / The Reporter

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