EVERETT — Jailin Johnson knows how to call his shot.
When Johnson was a eighth grader in the fall of 2018, he found Mariner High School boys basketball coach Tevin Dillon at a Marauders football game and told his soon-to-be coach that he’d be the basketball team’s starting point guard as a freshman the next season.
Johnson’s premonition came true and he became an immediate starter and impact player for the squad the following year.
On Wednesday night, Johnson, now a senior, calmly told his coach “I got this” before stepping to free-throw line down one point against Class 4A eighth-ranked Jackson with 7.2 seconds left to play.
Johnson was true to his word again and sank both attempts to lift his team to victory.
“In my head I was like, ‘I’m going to hit these,’” Johnson said of stepping to the line in crunch time. “Once I got that foul, I knew at the end of the day I’m going to knock them down. As a leader on the team, this is what I live for.”
Johnson poured in 32 points, including 13 in the fourth quarter, and defending Wesco 4A champion Mariner outlasted visiting Jackson, 74-73, in the league opener for both squads.
“I thought it was very important that the game was close and we pulled it out,” Dillon said. “I think we played hard and we did a lot of good stuff. Of course we gotta continue to get better, but I’m proud of how we played.”
Johnson’s game-winning trip to foul line was the final blow in a seesaw battle that saw both Wesco 4A title contenders trade punches and showcase their strengths throughout.
Mariner (7-5 overall, 1-0 league) used its speed and pressure defense to force turnovers, get in transition and put Jackson defenders in tough positions. It led to a number of fast-break chances and forced the Timberwolves (7-2, 0-1) into foul trouble.
Meanwhile, Jackson used its size and worked the ball inside to the standout duo of 6-foot-7 forwards senior Sylas Williams and junior Ryan McFerran. The Timberwolves also benefited from a number of second-chance opportunities off offensive rebounds.
But Mariner, which has just three players listed at 6-foot or taller on its roster, battled hard in the interior and did just enough to overcome its noticeable size disadvantage.
“We tried to be aggressive on defense and play fast, make their big guys not be able to catch the ball in position to score,” said Dillon, who noted that an earlier loss to a similarly sized Mt. Spokane squad helped his team prepare for Jackson. “… I think the biggest thing is we just played hard and blocked out. All the little things that a small team needs to do is what we try to do in practice.”
Junior Isaiah Cuellar’s 3-pointer put Mariner ahead 59-58 with 6:35 left in the fourth quarter. Jackson regained the lead and went up 62-59 after senior Harris Kampe drove to the hoop and hit a runner just off the right block.
Johnson answered with a 3-pointer to tie and put the Marauders ahead 65-62 with another triple on his team’s next possession.
After another Mariner bucket, Timberwolves senior Ty Hale drilled a deep 3-pointer and Kampe sliced to the hoop for another runner to tie it at 67 with 2:15 left.
Senior Makai Bloomfield’s second-chance bucket Mariner up 70-69, but Williams answered right back by hitting a contested mid-range jumper with 1:13 remaining.
Johnson delivered another lead change with a layup, but Jackson responded yet again. Williams drew a double team at the top of the arc, spun away from the pressure and dished off to senior Caden Sproul for a layup and a 73-72 lead with 17.7 seconds to go.
The Marauders called timeout and dialed up Johnson’s number with a chance to win the game. The senior point guard’s initial attempt drew the side of the backboard, but he secured the offensive rebound and drew a foul to set up the game-winning free throws.
“He’s coming into his game. The kid can play,” Dillon said of Johnson. “… He’s a confident player, a leader and he does a lot of good stuff for us. I’m really proud of him.”
Jackson had one last chance to win it on the final possession. After a timeout, the Timberwolves inbounded the ball at midcourt with under five seconds remaining. Johnson made another big play and tied up a Jackson player to force a jump ball with 0.4 seconds left. The Timberwolves retained possession but couldn’t get off a final shot before the buzzer sounded.
Bloomfield added 18 points, including 13 in the second half, and Cuellar chipped in 13 for Mariner, which knocked down 16 of 24 from free-throw line and beat Jackson for the fourth time in the past five meetings.
Kampe led Jackson with 21 points, Williams had 20 points and 13 rebounds and McFerran added 12 points and 11 rebounds.
The Marauders led 21-20 after a back-and-forth first quarter. Johnson converted a 3-point play at the buzzer for the lead and netted 12 points in the quarter. McFerran led the Timberwolves with eight points in the first.
Jackson used a 10-1 run in the second, which included a pair of triples from Kampe, to take a 38-32 lead at halftime.
The Timberwolves maintained a six-point lead heading into the fourth, but Mariner battled back and Johnson sealed a key league victory for the defending Wesco 4A champions.
“We knew a lot of people are probably doubting us (this season) because some seniors left, but at the end of the day we know we’re the top dogs still,” Johnson said. “… We want to go back-to-back.”