MILL CREEK — After losing to Glacier Peak four times last season, the Jackson boys basketball team finally solved its conference rival from just a few miles down the road.
Yet even after building a seemingly comfortable second-half lead, finishing off the Grizzlies proved to be no easy task.
Ben Olesen came up with a late steal and hit two free throws in the closing seconds as the Timberwolves withstood a furious fourth-quarter Glacier Peak comeback and prevailed for a 63-59 win Friday night in a showdown of Wesco 4A unbeatens.
“A lot of ups and downs,” Olesen said of the crazy fourth quarter. “It’s unbelievably nice (to beat Glacier Peak). … It’s nice to finally get them back.”
Playing in front of an energetic crowd at Jackson High School, the Timberwolves (8-3 overall, 5-0 Wesco 4A) took a 16-point lead into the final period and held a 61-52 advantage with 1:30 to play.
But the two-time defending Wesco 4A champions came roaring back.
After making a basket and a pair of free throws to trim Jackson’s lead to five points with 1:01 remaining, the Grizzlies (6-5, 4-1) forced a turnover to set up a wild sequence. Glacier Peak saved an air-ball 3-point attempt from going out of bounds, retained possession off a scramble for the ball and then cut the margin to 61-59 on a 3-pointer by Evan Mannes with 20 seconds left.
Moments later, Jackson committed another turnover that nearly proved costly. The Timberwolves threw an inbound pass out of bounds, giving Glacier Peak a baseline inbound underneath Jackson’s hoop with 14.2 seconds to play.
Suddenly — and improbably — the Grizzlies had a chance to tie or take the lead.
But after inbounding the ball, a Glacier Peak pass slipped through a player’s hands and went bouncing toward the sideline near midcourt.
Olesen sprinted to recover the loose ball and then circled around the Grizzlies’ defense, dribbling precious time off the clock before getting fouled with 4.4 seconds to play. The Jackson senior point guard then sank two free throws to seal the victory.
“We could have handled the end-of-the-game situation better,” Timberwolves coach Steve Johnson said. “It was a bizarre scenario with all the foul trouble. … But we managed to get some minutes off the bench and kind of survive.”
The victory left Jackson as the only remaining unbeaten in Wesco 4A play. Just past the one-third mark of the conference slate, the Timberwolves hold a one-game lead over both Glacier Peak and Mount Vernon.
The win also ended Jackson’s string of losses to the Grizzlies. Glacier Peak won all four matchups between the two teams last season, including a pair of district tournament contests.
“Every season’s different. Every team’s different. But there’s no question that when you lose to a team four times in a row and then you play them the next year, you’d like to change that,” Johnson said. “We did want to make a statement, particularly on our home floor.”
Olesen hit five 3-pointers — including several as the shot clock was winding down — and finished with a team-high 19 points.
“He stepped up and made plays,” Johnson said. “The guy’s a competitor. He loves to compete, loves the bright lights (of) a game like that and stepped up in that environment.”
The Timberwolves surged in front with a 13-0 run late in the first quarter, including a seven-point possession aided by a technical foul. Jackson stretched the margin to 15 points in the second quarter and took a 35-20 lead into halftime.
“We were able to kind of contain them and keep them out of what they wanted to do (offensively) in terms of where they wanted to get the ball,” Johnson said of his team’s first-half success.
Glacier Peak stormed out of the halftime break with seven straight points, quickly cutting the margin to 35-27. The Timberwolves answered, pushing their lead to 16 by the end of the third quarter.
However, the Grizzlies refused to cave. Glacier Peak opened the fourth with nine straight points, and later made a frenzied rally in the final 90 seconds to make it a one-possession game.
Mannes scored 18 of his game-high 22 points in the second half, and Brayden Quantrille added 17 points for the Grizzlies.
“I was super proud of our guys (for) the way they responded in a super tough environment,” Glacier Peak coach Brian Hunter said. “Some things were definitely not going the way we wanted them to for a while. We have a lot to work on, but I think there were some things there that we can build on.
“No one likes losing a game, but I think the way that we competed, we can take a lot from that.”