MILL CREEK — The last time Stanwood faced Mountlake Terrace, the Spartans lost an 11-point halftime lead and the game.
It was a heartbreaking defeat, but perhaps a turning point for Stanwood, which has gone undefeated since that mid-January loss. And the most recent of those wins is the sweetest of all, a 47-43 victory over the Hawks in Saturday night’s championship game of the Class 3A District 1 boys basketball tournament at Jackson High School.
Stanwood never trailed after a brief Mountlake Terrace lead in the first quarter, and the Spartans led for good after a 29-29 tie late in the third quarter. Still, it took a layin by Stanwood guard Josh Thayer with just over a minute to play and four free throws by teammate Mason Garcea in the closing seconds to wrap up the win.
“This is something I know these kids have dreamed about,” said Stanwood coach Zach Ward. “And the way they’ve developed over the last month has just been awesome.
“We have a special group,” he added. “We don’t know what happens after tonight, but we know right up to now that this is the best we can do. ? Terrace is obviously a really good basketball team, but we’re just as good.”
Minutes after the final horn, the Spartans were still celebrating with their fans. The joyous players cut down the net and then posed for picture after picture.
“This is the biggest thing I’ve ever been a part of,” said Thayer, who led Stanwood with 17 points. “It’s amazing, and I’m so happy.”
“This is what you dream about as a kid,” added teammate Drew Sears, who tossed in 12 points. “This is incredible.”
The game was a showdown of two teams who came in with a combined winning streak of 22 games. Stanwood had won eight in a row since that January loss to the Hawks. Mountlake Terrace, meanwhile, had not lost since a late December game against Glacier Peak, a stretch of 14 wins in a row.
Stanwood began with a flurry, getting a layin from forward Cannen Roberson off the opening tip and forcing the Hawks into back-to-back turnovers on the way to an early 6-0 margin. But Mountlake Terrace rallied with two 3-pointers from forward Greg Bowman and another from guard Marquis Armstead for a 9-8 lead.
Bowman scored again with a tip-in for a three-point lead, but from there the Spartans re-established control. Three-pointers from guard Ian Zipp, Sears and Thayer allowed Stanwood to build a 25-20 margin at halftime.
The lead was down to one to begin the fourth quarter, and the final eight minutes were a frantic, back-and-forth tussle with as many miscues as highlights. Mountlake Terrace went scoreless for 2½ minutes to start the period, and had another stretch of three scoreless minutes later in the frame.
Stanwood, meanwhile, gained a six-point lead — 40-34, its largest of the second half — early in the final quarter, but then had a three-minute scoring drought of its own.
The key play of the late moments was an in-bounds play for Stanwood under its own basket. Thayer started to curl through the key, then cut back under the hoop for a pass and a layin that made the score 43-38 with a minute to play.
The Hawks got a layin by guard Blake Fernandez and a desperation 3-pointer by Armstead, the latter with five seconds remaining, but Garcea’s four free throws were enough to clinch the outcome.
And the celebration began.
As he watched his players cut down the net, Ward had moisture around his eyes. “That’s a little bit of sweat,” he said, “but I think the tears will probably come a little later.”
Both teams advance to regional games next Saturday at Glacier Peak High School. Stanwood will play Franklin at 6 p.m., while Mountlake Terrace will play at 4 p.m. against the winner of Monday night’s Kennedy-Foss game.
At Jackson H.S.
Stanwood 12 13 9 13 — 47
M. Terrace 11 9 13 10 — 43
Mountlake Terrace—Jesse Zerom 7, Blake Fernandez 9, Michael Lotz 0, Marquis Armstead 13, Greg Bowman 10, LeTrae Sarden 0, Loren Lacasse 4. Stanwood—Mason Garcea 4, Josh Thayer 17, Cannen Roberson 4, Drew Stang 6, Ian Zipp 4, Brady Garcea 0, Kurtis Hushagen 0, Drew Sears 12. 3-point goals—Josh Thayer 2, Ian Zipp 1, Drew Sears 1, Jesse Zerom 1, Blake Fernandez 1, Marquis Armstead 2, Greg Bowman 2. Records—Mountlake Terrace 20-3 overall. Stanwood 18-5.