By Rich Myhre Herald Writer
TACOMA — Two weeks ago, the Jackson Timberwolves were one loss away from seeing their season end at the District 1 boys basketball tournament.
Now, they’re one win away from a state championship.
On Friday night, the Timberwolves continued their marvelous, magical march through the 4A state tourney with a perhaps improbable, but decidedly emphatic 53-45 victory over defending state champion Federal Way at the Tacoma Dome.
Behind the 25 points of guard Brett Kingma, Jackson went on top early and led throughout, save for a few moments in the late first and early second quarters. The big lead was 16 points, 34-18, early in the third period, and the T-wolves then hung on in the closing minutes as Federal Way mounted an expected, but ultimately unsuccessful comeback try.
At the final horn, the jubilant T-wolves danced and hugged crazily on the court, and then flocked to the student section to celebrate with their fans.
“I thought the first two days (at state) were crazy, but this is the most unbelievable feeling in the world,” said a grinning Kingma. “Why don’t we go win the state title now?”
Why not, indeed?
Except the assignment will, once again, be formidable. Jackson will face Kentwood and its UCLA-bound center, 6-foot-9 Joshua Smith, in tonight’s 7 p.m. title game. Kentwood pounded Wilson of Tacoma 57-44 in Friday’s other semifinal.
“Hopefully we’ll respond,” said Jackson coach Steve Johnson. “We’ll have a tremendous challenge.”
Challenges, though, are nothing new to the T-wolves. Last month, Jackson lost back-to-back games to Meadowdale and Mountlake Terrace late in its regular season, causing Johnson and his staff to wonder if the team would even qualify for state.
“Our momentum was down,” Johnson said. “Our morale was kind of down. We were kind of struggling. But we had a lot of soul-searching and we talked a lot about what we needed to change — defend better, rebound better, compete better.”
There were more questions after Jackson lost to Lake Stevens at the district tournament, a setback that put the season in doubt. But since then the T-wolves have won five straight — two loser-out games to gain the No. 3 district berth to state, and three more at state this week to reach the championship finale.
“We’re playing our best basketball of the year at the right time,” Kingma said.
It was Kingma who got the T-wolves started against Federal Way, dropping in a 3-point shot from the left baseline, a 2-pointer from the left wing, and one of two free throws for a 6-0 lead in the first 81 seconds. He finished the quarter with nine points.
“Kingma was huge,” Johnson said. “He came out firing.”
But by then the Eagles had also found their wings. Guard Isiah Umipig, Federal Way’s floor leader, scored five quick points, and by the end of the period the Eagles were in front 11-10, though their lead was short-lived.
Two minutes later, backup wing Mason Gilchrist sank a shot from the left baseline to put the T-wolves up 15-13, and they never trailed again. Kingma followed with two more 3s, guard Marshall Massengale added another, and forward Austin O’Keefe scored three field goals to give Jackson a surprising 30-18 margin at halftime.
Two early Jackson field goals to start the second half pushed the lead to 16 points, and it was still 10 to start the fourth quarter. But Federal Way kept chipping away at the deficit, and a 3-pointer by Umipig with 3:49 remaining made it 45-39.
Another 3-pointer by Federal Way’s Tyrell Lewis made the score 49-45, but by then only 58 seconds remained. Jackson got two free throws apiece from Kingma and forward Mike Wishko in the late seconds for the game’s final points.
“Quite honestly, we played bad offensively, by our standards, the first two games,” Johnson said. “But tonight I said, ‘You know what, we’re due for a much better offensive game. And if we compete, defend and rebound, like we did the first two games, we’ve got a shot.’
“We have guys who felt like they could compete,” he added, “and I’d say we competed pretty good tonight.”
And they did so against a team that was, many believed, the favorite to win a repeat title this season.
“That team was supposed to beat us by 30 points,” Kingma said. “So they had everything to lose and we had nothing to lose. And we came out and gave it to them.”
At Tacoma Dome
Federal Way — Lewis 7, Umipig 12, Duckworth 3, Jones 2, Christopher 7, Williams 4, Dickerson 10. Jackson — Kingma 25, Todd 6, Massengale 9, O’Keefe 7, Gilchrist 4, Wishko 2. 3-point goals — Umipig 2, Lewis 1, Duckworth 1, Kingma 4, Massengale 2. Records — Federal Way 25-3. Jackson 23-4.