PUYALLUP — For the first time in more than two weeks, the Stanwood boys basketball team can look forward to something other than a loser-out game.
With Saturday’s 77-67 state regional victory over Enumclaw, the Spartans are now looking forward to the Class 3A state quarterfinals, which start Thursday in the Tacoma Dome.
After losing their district-tournament opener to Glacier Peak on Feb. 12, Stanwood had to win consecutive loser-out games against Arlington, Ferndale and Glacier Peak just to reach the regional round. And in another win-or-go-home game at Rogers High School, the Spartans jumped to an early lead and then held off Enumclaw to clinch the team’s second trip to the Tacoma Dome in three years.
After the loss to Glacier Peak “we woke up on the wrong side of a district bracket, and in the basketball world that’s about as low as you can get,” said Stanwood coach Zach Ward. “Just to be able to rally a group of boys and share the message, ‘We’ve still got a chance, but it’s going to take hard work,’ you can’t explain how it’s possible or what it’s going to feel like until it happens.
“But two weeks later they’ve gone from probably the lowest to the highest. Because in their basketball life, (a trip to the Tacoma Dome) is the highest they can get,” he said.
After making an early-morning bus ride to Puyallup, the Spartans showed no weariness whatsoever in the game’s early moments. Behind seven quick points from post Chase Strieby, Stanwood jumped to a 9-2 lead and twice pushed the margin to a game high of 13 points late in the first quarter, and then a third time in the opening seconds of the second quarter.
Enumclaw responded with a 13-0 scoring burst over the next 41/2 minutes, and even snagged a pair of one-point leads later in the period.
“We let them get back (in the game),” said Spartans guard Cameron Plautz. “But then coach called timeout and he said, ‘It’s a game of runs and now we’ve got to get back in this.’ And we just took it from there.”
Indeed Stanwood closed the first half with eight unanswered points for a 38-31 halftime lead.
That late first-half scoring run “was a game-changer,” Ward said. “They had all the momentum, and then we got a last little (flurry) right before the break to go up seven. I thought that was a big part of the game. It could’ve easily been tied or we could’ve even been down, but we were up seven and that’s kind of a whole different world.”
Stanwood never lost the lead in the second half, but neither did Enumclaw go away. The Hornets drew within 61-57 with just over three minutes to play, but Stanwood’s Austin Wilhonen sank a free throw, missed the second and Strieby snatched the rebound and scored with a putback for a seven-point margin. Enumclaw never got closer than five the rest of the way.
Spartans guard Bryson Kelley dropped in 10 of 12 free-throw tries in the final 50 seconds to clinch the outcome.
“I’m just super proud of how hard they played and how hard they competed,” Ward said. “It might be the first game (this season) that we played (hard) the full 32 minutes.”
The Spartans will now get three more days of practice before heading to Tacoma for Thursday’s quarterfinals opener.
“I’m happy for the boys to get this opportunity because of all the work they’ve put in throughout the year,” Ward said. “They’re going to get so much out of it, and it’s something they’re going to remember it for the rest of their lives.”
At Rogers H.S.
Stanwood—AJ Martinka 20, Bryson Kelley 12, Cameron Plautz 5, Chase Strieby 25, Henry Oldow 0, Quinton Borseth 2, Isaac Olson 0, Austin Wilhonen 6, Nate Kummer 5, Trygve DeBoer 2. Enumclaw—Kaden Anderson 16, Griffin Webb 0, Drew Seabrands 2, Bryson Engebretsen 0, Kale Engebretsen 0, Justus Rainwater 11, Michael Blair 2, Scotty Garvin 20, Josh Erickson 16. Records—Stanwood 19-6, Enumclaw 13-12.