By Kevin Brown Herald Writer
TACOMA — C’mon, did the Jackson Timberwolves really think they could beat the No. 1-ranked team in the state?
“Realistically,” junior forward Austin O’Keefe said, “we knew we were good enough to beat them, but we knew we would pretty much have to play a perfect game.”
Friday night’s stunning 53-45 upset of the Federal Way Eagles in the semifinals of the Class 4A state boys basketball tournament may not have been perfect, but in the words of senior guard Ryan Todd, “it was pretty darn close.”
As usual, Jackson got a 25-point, highlight-reel performance from guard Brett Kingma, but ultimately it was the play of his teammates that made the difference in the biggest victory in program history.
Take, for example, senior point guard Marshall Massengale, who more than held his own in a matchup with the Eagles’ Isiah Umipig, regarded as one of the best guards in the state.
“I really wanted to prove myself against him,” said Massengale, whose efficient performance included nine points, six rebounds, three assists and, perhaps most important, just two turnovers. “I think I played right with him and proved I could play with him.”
Then there was Todd. A senior guard and the Timberwolves’ second-leading scorer at 14.2 points per game, he didn’t tally a single point through the first 31/2 quarters. But he found other ways to contribute, particularly on the boards, where he pulled down a game-high 12 rebounds.
“Ryan Todd does what it takes to win,” Jackson coach Steve Johnson said.
Todd finished with just six points, but they were big, all coming in the fourth quarter to jump start a Jackson offense that had temporarily stalled.
“In the fourth quarter we needed some baskets,” Johnson said, “and he got us some baskets.”
And finally, there was the trio of O’Keefe and seniors Mike Wishko and Andy Gay, who were assigned the daunting task of shutting down Federal Way’s 6-foot-7, University of San Francisco-bound post Cole Dickerson.
Dickerson came into the game averaging 20 points and 8.5 rebounds in his first two tournament games. The Jackson threesome, known of whom were tall enough to look Dickerson in the eye, limited him to 10 points on 5-for-11 shooting.
“We were going to play behind Dickerson and double him as soon as he got the ball, just trap him,” Wishko said. “After the first quarter, they really stopped trying to feed him. The game plan obviously worked.”
Jackson’s inside players were instructed to be physical with Dickerson, even if it cost them some fouls. With a three-man rotation, they had 15 hacks to take. They needed just seven to get the job done.
“They wore him down,” Johnson said. “They battled him for every inch in the post position.”
As evidence of how hard the Jackson big men worked, the Timberwolves out-rebounded the Eagles 36-25.
O’Keefe also chipped in offensively, scoring seven points to go along with his five boards and one blocked shot..
“I haven’t been shooting very well this year and this game I came out and knocked down some nice shots,” O’Keefe said. “It’s all I could ask.”
Now the Timberwolves and their fans are asking for a similar performance tonight against Kentwood and its 6-9 center Joshua Smith, who has signed with UCLA.
This much is certain: O’Keefe, Wishko, Gay and Co. won’t back down from the challenge.
‘The bigs have been doing the work all year and have been unsung heroes,” Massengale said, “and now we are in the state championship.”