There’s more to the Marysville Pilchuck High School boys basketball team than just RaeQuan Battle.
Sure, the University of Washington signee and star senior wing garners the majority of the headlines, but the Tomahawks surrounding him are more than capable.
Add that up and MP (20-3) is a team to be reckoned with in this week’s Class 3A state tournament, because one-man teams — if they make it to the Tacoma Dome at all — don’t usually fare well.
“We talk about it all the time that we’re not a one-hit wonder,” MP coach Bary Gould said after the Tomahawks’ regional win over Kelso on Saturday. “We’re not just a team based on RaeQuan, we have a bunch of pieces that have stepped up all year long. Rae hasn’t played perfect basketball all year, but there are games that we end up on top because someone else has stepped up.
“That’s the thing about high school basketball, you can’t just have one player and be good. Teams have proven that time and time again.”
The Tomahawks have proven on several occasions that they are more than just a one-man show.
Junior guard Luke Dobler erupted for 33 points in the Tomahawks’ 72-51 win over Kelso. In their 64-42 victory over Shorecrest in the opening round of the Northwest District tournament, Dobler and Cameron Stordahl each poured in 22 points. Battle was held to nine.
In an 87-58 win over rival Marysville Getchell on Jan. 26, Battle scored 28 points, but Aaron Kalab exploded for a season-high 29.
As the Tomahawks have evolved over the season, so have their role players. And it’s made for a more dynamic, cohesive unit.
“We have a lot of trust now,” Battle said. “If you go back to that Lynden game (an 80-46 loss on Dec. 10), we were all kind of doing our own thing. Especially me, at the time. I wasn’t really looking for the open man and just trying to get mine; be the hero, I guess. We don’t really do that anymore.”
A 34-point shellacking will humble any team, but for MP, it served as a turning point and a much-needed wake-up call.
Lynden, a 2A school, came down to MP and thumped the Tomahawks. MP was disjointed and left the gym searching for answers after falling to 1-3 to start the season.
Battle scored 11 points on about 25 shots, Gould said. He tried to take over the game, and it showed in the final result.
Since then, Battle has developed a symbiotic relationship with his teammates. They trust Battle to make the right decisions and put them in areas to succeed, and he trusts his teammates to get him the ball in the right spots.
“It allows us to bring the offense to him,” junior guard Brady Phelps said. “Not just for him to create his own shots, we create his shots. And when he gets on a roll, we let him do him.”
The Tomahawks backcourt consists of Dobler and Phelps. Dobler, who is second on the team in scoring at 11.2 points per game, was a first-team All-Wesco pick last season and has endured injuries for the much of this season — he missed six games early in the season with an ankle issue — but he’s slowly returning to full health and enters the state tournament coming off his career-high 33 points against Kelso.
Phelps isn’t a prolific scorer — he averages 3.2 points per game — but he grew significantly as a ball-handler with Dobler out. The pair split those duties now. Phelps also is a savant at taking charges, leading the team with 28 on the season, and he leads the team with 3.8 assists per game.
A pair of crosstown transfers in Stordahl and Ethan Jackson have bolstered the Tomahawks’ front court. Stordahl was the second-leading scorer at Marysville Getchell last season before transferring to Pilchuck in the offseason. He’s a Swiss-army-knife type of player, averaging 10.7 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.6 assists.
Jackson, MP’s tallest player at 6-foot-6, is second on the team with 5.0 rebounds per game and is fourth with 2.2 assists.
“He’s a really good post defender,” Gould said of Jackson. “We’ve played some good bigs, including (Kelso’s) Shaw (Anderson) and Ethan was a big reason why (Anderson) was limited in that regional game. And he’s improved offensively. He’s had some games of 10 or 12 or eight and hit some big free throws down the stretch.”
Kalab and Alec Jones-Smith are also key rotation members, as both players are relied upon for shutdown defense and energy.
Battle doesn’t need to carry the Tomahawks, but he has the ability to when needed — his 21.2 points and 8.2 rebounds per game are both team-highs. However, it’s his humility that has allowed his teammates to develop around him, Gould said.
“It takes a special kid to be at that level and not be about himself — and he really wasn’t,” Gould said. “I think it’s a tribute to Rae that they can be his ‘supporting cast,’ because he recognizes that when he’s hot, they find him. When he’s not, he finds them.”
The harmony between Battle and his supporting cast wasn’t instant. Battle was suspended for the first two games of the season and the chemistry took a while to develop when he returned.
“We didn’t know our roles,” Stordahl said. “It was hard to just figure out who’s going to put the ball in the hole, who’s going to take the lead when our leaders were down. I felt like after those first four games, we only went up from there and we’re peaking at the best point we can.”
The Tomahawks enter Thursday’s contest on a 19-game win streak. That 1-3 start seems like a distant memory. MP has won its past six games by an average of 25.3 points and is holding opponents to 48.5 points over that stretch.
The Tomahawks, who play their first game Thursday against the winner of Lincoln-O’Dea, haven’t experienced great success at the state tournament throughout the program’s history. MP last made it to the Tacoma Dome in 2014-2015, but dropped two games. The team’s last appearance before that was in 1992-1993.
The Tomahawks haven’t placed at state since a fifth-place finish in 1988-1989, which is also the highest in school history.
There’s a different aura around this team, Gould said.
“I think our mentality is different this year,” the coach said. “We’re not in a position that we’re satisfied just to be here.”
The 3A tournament appears to be more open than in recent years. There’s no obvious choice to cut down the nets. And with that in mind, MP’s players are asking, “Why not us?”
“I think we can do something special,” Jackson said. “I think we can make some noise down in Tacoma.”