SNOHOMISH — Just like the wild contest between these two teams earlier this month, the rematch also came down to the closing seconds.
And once again, the Jackson boys basketball team prevailed.
Christian Liddell hit two free throws with 9.4 seconds remaining and Glacier Peak missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer at the buzzer as the Timberwolves held on for a 47-44 road win Wednesday night to clinch the top seed in Wesco 4A.
“They’re never easy, man,” Jackson coach Steve Johnson said of the Grizzlies, who nearly pulled off a miraculous fourth-quarter comeback in the teams’ first meeting earlier this month. “They’re always just tooth and nail.
“This was obviously just kind of a gut-it-out (game). No one really got a rhythm offensively. … We just had to gut it out, and fortunately got enough stops at the end.”
With the victory, Jackson (15-3 overall, 12-0 Wesco 4A) earned a regular-season sweep of two-time defending conference champion Glacier Peak and secured the league’s top seed heading into the upcoming Class 4A Wes-King bi-district tournament.
The first-place Timberwolves also clinched at least a share of the Wesco 4A crown, and need just one win in their final two regular-season games to claim the league title outright. The victory gave Jackson a two-game lead and the head-to-head tiebreaker over the second-place Grizzlies (12-6, 10-2).
“It was kind of an ugly, gritty win, but we’re excited,” Johnson said. “We have a lot of respect for their program. They’ve won the league the last two years, so to come in here and beat them the second time and (clinch) the number-one seed — that was our goal and it wasn’t easy, so I’m proud of the kids.”
Playing in front of a lively crowd that featured energetic student sections from both schools, Jackson overcame a rough shooting night from standout senior Christian Liddell, the team’s leading scorer and one of the league’s top shooters.
But despite being shut out until the game’s closing seconds, Liddell made a major impact in the final half-minute.
With the Timberwolves clinging to a late two-point lead, Liddell made a nice bounce pass around a defender to Joe Capponi, who converted a layup to stretch the margin to 45-41 with 22 seconds remaining.
Glacier Peak immediately answered, making it a one-point game on a 3-pointer by Evan Mannes with 10.6 seconds to play.
Then after a foul by the Grizzlies set up a one-and-one situation, Liddell calmly sank both free throws to give Jackson a three-point cushion.
“I was incredibly impressed with how he did that,” Johnson said. “When you haven’t seen the ball go through the hoop all night and you step up to the line (in a situation like that), that’s not easy to do. … That was huge.”
“That was very clutch,” Timberwolves junior Jaylen Searles added. “We really needed that.”
Glacier Peak then quickly pushed the ball upcourt and attempted two potential game-tying 3-pointers in the closing seconds.
The first attempt was an air ball, but the Grizzlies recovered the miss and kicked the ball back out for another 3-point attempt. That one also missed, clanking off the rim at the buzzer.
“The kids ran a play perfectly — the way we wanted them to run — and I thought we had two really good looks at a 3 to tie it,” Glacier Peak coach Brian Hunter said. “We put ourselves in a position to have a chance. Those shots just didn’t fall for us.”
Searles led Jackson with a game-high 14 points, including eight points and a pair of 3-pointers in the first quarter. Late in the first half, the 6-foot-6 wing threw down a two-handed alley-oop slam off a lob from point guard Ben Olesen.
“Me and Ben have been working on alley-oops in practice a lot,” Searles said. “The last few games we haven’t executed them in (a) game, but we have our chemistry down now.”
Capponi added 10 points for the Timberwolves and Kyle Bigovich and Carter Korab each scored eight.
Mannes led the Grizzlies with 13 points and Fletcher Douglas added 12.
“(Jackson) did a really nice job on the offensive glass, and that hurt us on putbacks,” Hunter said. “I think if you break it down, that’s probably one of the biggest differences in the game. They just got second-chance shots, and they converted.”
The back-and-forth contest was tightly contested throughout, featuring seven ties and 11 lead changes. The two teams were never separated by more than five points.
“It was definitely a high-level game,” Hunter said. “It definitely had a playoff atmosphere to it.”
After suffering four losses to Glacier Peak last season, the Timberwolves have now won two straight over their rival from just a few miles down the road.
Earlier this month, Jackson took a 16-point lead into the fourth quarter before withstanding a furious Grizzlies comeback to hold on for a 63-59 win. The Timberwolves then completed the regular-season sweep Wednesday, beating Glacier Peak on its home court to claim the league’s top seed.
“We’ve been waiting for this game all season,” Searles said. “We knew that it was going to be hard. They were going to come with everything.
“It means a lot,” he added, “because last year they beat us (four) times, and we were like, ‘That’s not happening this season.’ We came out with lots of intensity and were ready.”