TACOMA — With his senior-laden Spartans facing a loser-out scenario Wednesday night, Stanwood coach Zach Ward borrowed a slogan from his former high school coach.
“Win or watch.”
Ward wrote those words on the board during his pregame speech, and his Spartans responded with an energetic defensive effort that kickstarted their offense, propelled them to victory and extended their high-school careers.
No. 7-seed Stanwood forced a slew of turnovers while rattling off a pivotal 20-4 second-quarter run, and the Spartans advanced to the Class 3A state quarterfinals with a 64-52 win over No. 10-seed Shorecrest in the Tacoma Dome.
“We have eight seniors and those extra things — that loose ball, that rebound — don’t sit and watch,” Ward said. “Go get that sucker, because you never know. And that was evident mainly in the second and third quarters, when I think we won the hustle-type stats. That was what changed the game.”
The victory guarantees Stanwood (22-3) at least two more games, beginning with a quarterfinal matchup at 5:30 p.m. Thursday against Nathan Hale, the top-ranked team in the nation according to USA TODAY. Shorecrest (22-3) was eliminated with the loss.
It was the third time the Wesco 3A rivals had squared off in the last month, with Stanwood winning the teams’ regular-season finale and Shorecrest edging the Spartans in the district title game.
Shorecrest led 12-9 after the first quarter of Wednesday’s rubber match, but Stanwood — known for its high-powered offense — used its defense to turn the tide. The Spartans’ trap defense forced Shorecrest into numerous second-quarter turnovers, which Stanwood converted into transition baskets to fuel its massive run.
“We were trying to get hands on the ball and tips,” Ward said. “And we felt like if we could get 70 to 75 percent of the results of those (tipped passes), we were going to change this game to a faster pace and maybe get some easy buckets. And I bet we were close to that 70-percent number. Those tips and loose balls, we got them.”
Junior guard Nate Kummer came off the bench to key Stanwood’s second-quarter run, scoring all 13 of his points in the period. Senior guard Bryson Kelley led the Spartans with 16 points, while seniors AJ Martinka and Austin Wilhonen added 10 apiece for Stanwood.
Kummer’s performance was particularly important given that Spartans standout Chase Strieby was limited to two points by Shorecrest 6-foot-8 center Phillip Pepple.
“That’s the benefit of having depth,” Ward said. “Nate’s a kid that would start for most other teams in our league … but he’s our seventh or eighth man. He gets after it every day. You never know when your number’s (going to be) called. He just had the second quarter of his life.”
Stanwood senior Quinton Borseth capped the second-quarter surge with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer that gave the Spartans a 34-20 halftime lead. Kelley extended the margin to 47-30 with a corner 3 in the closing seconds of the third quarter, and Stanwood led by as many as 21 points early in the fourth.
Shorecrest scored nine straight points to trim the deficit to 51-39, but the Spartans fended off the late rally and kept the margin at double digits for the remainder of the game.
Shorecrest finished with 18 turnovers, and the Scots’ 52 points matched their second-lowest total of the season. And despite Shorecrest owning a height advantage, Stanwood equaled the Scots in rebounds. Five Spartans grabbed at least five boards.
“Great defensive effort from everybody,” Ward said. “And to (rebound against) a team with that length says a lot about our team’s heart and energy and effort.”
Pepple led Shorecrest with 16 points, 12 rebounds and seven blocks. Senior guard Malcolm Rosier-Butler added 11 points and 6-foot-9 senior Simon Acker had nine points and eight rebounds for the Scots.
“There’s no doubt, the second quarter is what got us,” Shorecrest coach Brian Fischer said. “We got a little snake-bit and had a hard time doing things right. I think the mistakes kind of snowballed a little bit, and we didn’t shore it up real well. It kind of got away from us more than it could against a team like Stanwood. They were too good to come back from that type of a deficit.”
Stanwood now turns its attention to the nation’s top-ranked team.
“You want to talk about absolutely nothing to lose,” Ward said of the upcoming Hale matchup. “They’re high-school kids, too. It’s a 32-minute game. (But) they’re the number-one team in the country for a reason. They’re a fantastic team.”
“(We’re) not going to back down,” Kelley added. “We know everyone loves them, but we’re going to show them what a small town’s got.”