By David Krueger Herald Writer
Even though the Stanwood and Shorecrest boys basketball teams are in different leagues, the players have a history of competing in big games against each other.
Many of the seniors on the two squads battled for Wesco Youth Basketball League (WYBL) championships when they were in middle school. Stanwood won the WYBL — a league made up of feeder programs for Wesco high schools — in 2008. Shorecrest followed with a victory in the championship game in 2009, when the players were in seventh grade.
The grudge match — and biggest game of the series — is tonight’s 3A District 1 championship game at Jackson High School.
“The teams are definitely very familiar to each other,” said Andrew Grinaker, who coached the Shorecrest feeder team. “They know each other’s games very well. They’ve played against each other a lot.”
The WYBL was formed in 2002 with the goal of developing future high school basketball players. The 19-team league features 18 league games and an end-of-the-year tournament to crown a champion.
In the mid-2000s, Stanwood and Shorecrest were perennial contenders. Each had several members of its current high school squads, including Conin Oishi, Zach Lawson, Alex Hofstrand, Connor Hyppa, Benny Ortega and Daniel Ghebremichael of Shorecrest, and future Stanwood Spartans Josh Thayer, Brady Garcea, Ian Zipp and Drew Stang.
“Definitely a lot of memories with those guys,” Zipp said. “We have gone back and forth back in the AAU days. They’ve always been our rival. They’ve always been a really good team and always put up a big game against us.”
Stanwood defeated Shorecrest by double digits in the 2006 title game, before the Scots got revenge — twice — in 2007. Shorecrest handed Stanwood its first WYBL loss in 3½ years in the final regular-season game, then held off the Spartans again in the championship game.
“I’ve got to give Andrew credit, he solved the puzzle,” said Jeff Heckman, who coached the Stanwood team. “His boys performed admirably. Frankly, they shocked us. They ended our reign of terror.”
Heckman coached the Stanwood players in more than 350 games, starting with their fourth-grade season. He said that even back then he knew this group of players was special.
““I wasn’t the best coach in the world but I selected the smartest bunch of kids with the biggest hearts,” Heckman said. “We had so much fun and so much success. It was a great run.”
Other teams knew Stanwood would be tough in the future, too
“I just remember they were the best team for so long,” said Oishi, a guard for the Scots. “And that was the first year Shorecrest was really good. (The championship) was a really hard-fought game. That’s what I remember the most. They were the best forever and that was our one year to beat them.”
The now-senior guard said Shorecrest has a similar mindset going into tonight’s district championship. While some believe No. 2-ranked Stanwood, which boasts a 22-0 record, might run away with the contest, the Scots say they match up well with the Spartans.
Just like back in the day.
“We are pretty confident, actually,” Oishi said. “Even though people might not think we match up very well we have a lot of good guards they have a lot of good guards. We have good posts, they have good posts. It’ll just come down to who works the hardest.”
Both teams have locked up berths in the next week’s regional round of the 3A state tournament.
Stanwood is seeking to win its second consecutive district title, while the Scots are headed to state for the first time since 1995, which takes some of the pressure off tonight’s game.
“I think that they are going to try to not put so much pressure on themselves, knowing that they’re both going to regionals,” Grinaker said. “I think, at least from a Shorecrest perspective, they know all the (Stanwood) players. They’re not intimidated by them being undefeated. But they know how good they are. They know they have to play their A-game to win.”
Since the beginning of the season, repeating as the district champion has been a big goal for Stanwood.
“I think this year, being a senior, I want to go out on a really good note,” Thayer said. “I really want to win the district championship and get to state. As a senior, leave a little mark in the Stanwood b-ball program.”
Shorecrest has won 10 straight games since losing to Stanwood 68-51 on Jan. 10. The teams have played three times in the past two years, with Stanwood winning all three.
“We want to keep our record undefeated,” Zipp said. “A loss on the record looks pretty ugly. … We’ve gone head-to-head for a while and for it to end up like this our senior year, that’s just cool. … We are undefeated and we’re on a good streak, but we can be beaten.
“These guys have done it before.”