TACOMA – A fourth-place finish wasn’t exactly what he was hoping for, but Steve Johnson is excited to put a picture with a smiling Jackson basketball team in the trophy case.
The Jackson head coach and his Timberwolves, who have placed second at state twice in the past five years, defeated Gonzaga Prep 61-44 in the fourth/sixth-place game Saturday morning at the Tacoma Dome. In the customary post-game picture, the Timberwolves were all smiles – a stark contrast to their picture after a 60-56 loss in last year’s 4A state championship.
“We’ve had some bitter pictures,” Johnson said. “I don’t really get the thing of having the state championship loser take a photo right after. I’ve kept a couple of those and they are just brutal photos with people crying. … Yeah, to take a picture after a win is nice.”
Jackson quickly ensured its 2013-14 season ended with a win. The Timberwolves opened the second quarter with a 17-0 run, and didn’t allow Gonzaga Prep to score a basket – its only of the period – until there was less than a minute left in the quarter.
The run gave Jackson a 33-22 lead at halftime and the Bullpups never threatened the rest of the way.
The Timberwolves, who dealt with high expectations all season, made the most of their final two games. Jackson senior Jason Todd said it was important for the Timberwolves to end their season on a positive note.
“It’s pretty awesome to go out on a win,” Todd said. “With these nine (seniors) it’s pretty special. Obviously, we would have liked to go out winning state and all that stuff but, man, I wouldn’t trade these guys for the world. They’ve been with me as I’ve grown up – (I was) one-month old when Dan (Kingma) was born, and here we are, 18 years later. … It’s an incredible feeling to go out on a win. It’s really special.”
Fittingly, in his final game at Jackson Todd once again finished with a double-double. The senior scored 17 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. Kingma, another senior, had a game-high 22 points.
The point guard echoed Todd’s comments of wanting to finish strong.
“After a loss you can either lay down or knock them out,” Kingma said. “We got together – this team, we just couldn’t go out on a bad note. We’ve been playing together so long. I’m just glad that we played good, got two wins and we got fourth place. It was just an awesome season, an awesome career at Jackson with those guys.”
The duo are part of a group of 10 seniors that has had tremendous success at Jackson, which has won four-straight district titles and been to the Tacoma Dome each of the last five seasons.
“They’re two great players,” Johnson said. “Great role models for the younger kids in our program. I’m really going to miss them.”
With such a large group departing, the Jackson coach said next year will be a challenge.
But it’s one he’s looking forward to.
“It’s obviously a huge rebuilding job, and I kind of think we’re looking forward to that challenge – as much as we’ll miss these guys,” Johnson said. “Remind me I said that, next year. But we’ve got some good kids coming through.”
The Timberwolves seniors began their Tacoma Dome adventure on Thursday, with championship aspirations. However, Jackson fell to Issaquah 56-44 in the quarterfinals, forcing the Timberwolves to work their way through the consolation bracket.
Jackson responded to just their second loss of the season with a 61-57 overtime win against Kentridge Friday afternoon, setting up the showdown with Gonzaga Prep for fourth place.
“I think a lot of teams have the goal of winning the championship,” Kingma said. “We knew we could. We had the potential to, but all year long coach made us know that you’ve got to enjoy the process. I know our ultimate goal was to win the championship, but if that doesn’t happen it doesn’t mean there’s a failure or anything. We enjoyed every bit of the season. I think we accomplished a lot of things.”
Johnson was having a hard time coming up with the right words to describe his emotions after the game.
“Satisfied, probably wouldn’t be the right word,” Johnson said. “But after losing Thursday, to bounce back, and to win two and finish on a positive note. … We’ve been down here now, we’ve been in the championship game twice in the last five years. We’ve gotten a second-, a second- and a fourth- (place finish). I think we’ve always come out and represented ourselves pretty well.”
The Jackson coach removed his starters with about a minute and a half to go in the game, and had a big embrace with Todd as he came off the court.
“I spend two hours a day after school, for about four and a half to five months, for about four years, with him – plus summer. That dude knows me pretty well,” Todd said. “That guy is somebody I look up to as a role model. He’s one of the best guys I know. To embrace him was pretty special.”
Todd, last year’s Herald Player of the Year, will continue his career at the University of Portland. Kingma announced he will walk on at the University of Washington recently. Brian Zehr, another talented senior, is still figuring out where he will end up next year.
With his season over, Todd is affording himself a rare specialty: a day off.
“I’ll probably take tomorrow off,” Todd said. “I’ll get back at in Monday.”
At Tacoma Dome
Jackson 16 17 14 14 — 61
Gonzaga Prep 20 2 12 10 — 44
Jackson—Nick Hovorka 1, Dan Kingma 22, Jason Todd 17, Brian Zehr 6, Marcus Blake 8, Holden Roberts 0, Connor Willgress 3, Dylan Mitchell 0, Frank Rossi 0, Sam Saufferer 2, Blake Ozuna 2, Riley Waite 0. Gonzaga Prep—Sam Dowd 4, Brendan McClary 7, Ryan Alexander 7, Frankie Hoerner 5, Reed Hopkins 15, Nick Wood 0, Logan Adams 0, Jamil Foster 6, Jack Hunter 0. 3-point goals—Kingma 6, Todd 1, Blake 2, Willgress 1, Alexander 1, Hoerner 1, Hopkins 3. Records–Jackson 25-2 overall. Gonzaga Prep 20-5.