MILL CREEK — Stanwood’s high-powered offense got off to an unusually slow start.
But with a little help from their defense, the Spartans clicked into gear during the second quarter and rattled off 14 straight points on their way to yet another dominant victory.
AJ Martinka scored a game-high 26 points as Stanwood clinched a state regional berth and punched its ticket to the Tacoma Dome with a 77-54 win over Edmonds-Woodway in a Class 3A District 1 semifinal Wednesday night at Jackson High School.
With the victory, the Spartans (21-1) booked a fifth consecutive trip to the state regionals and advanced to Friday night’s district title game against Shorecrest.
The win also means Stanwood has secured a trip to the Tacoma Dome, regardless of whether the Spartans win their regional game. That’s because Stanwood finished No. 8 in the WIAA’s final RPI rankings, and under the new state-tournament format, the top eight state qualifiers are guaranteed spots in the Tacoma Dome for the 12-team tournament.
“We knew that coming into this game, if we got this ‘W,’ we’d be going to the dome,” Martinka said. “And that was a huge driving force for us tonight. That’s where we got our motivation. I know we still have the district championship and we’ve got to go get some nets, but that was a huge thing for us tonight.”
Martinka, a 6-foot-6 senior, led Stanwood’s attack while slashing to the hoop, converting several tough finishes and getting to the free-throw line with regularity. Chase Strieby, another 6-foot-6 senior, added 12 points and senior Cameron Plautz scored 10 for the well-balanced Spartans.
Martinka also helped key a high-pressure Stanwood defense that forced numerous turnovers while holding Edmonds-Woodway (17-5) to its second-lowest point total of the season and 18 points below its season average.
“Fantastic,” Stanwood coach Zach Ward said of Martinka’s performance. “Tonight you saw his best game of the year. … He was our leading scorer tonight, which is great. But he did so much energy-wise tonight that helped. We told him before the game that our defense starts with you on top. If you come with energy and effort, we’re going to be OK on the back side of that. And we were.”
Noah Becker led Edmonds-Woodway with 19 points. The Warriors face Arlington in a winner-to-state, loser-out game Saturday.
Edmonds-Woodway frustrated Stanwood early in Wednesday’s contest, limiting the Spartans to 11 first-quarter points. The Warriors trailed just 15-13 early in the second quarter.
But Stanwood’s tenacious defense forced a slew of second-quarter turnovers, paving the way for several transition baskets during a 14-0 Spartans run that stretched the margin to 29-13.
“We just had to kind of do our thing, pick up the pace a little bit and get that transition game going,” Martinka said. “And once we got that going and were consistently scoring some buckets, it got going in our favor.”
Edmonds-Woodway scored three quick lay-ins to begin the third quarter, chipping the deficit to 36-25. But Stanwood quickly pushed its lead back to 15 points and was in control the rest of the way.
The Spartans now turn their attention to the district title game, which will be a rematch of their 75-61 triumph over Shorecrest in last week’s regular-season finale that decided the Wesco 3A championship. The district title game won’t have any impact on state seeding for either team, but Stanwood still has plenty of motivation.
“We’re still playing for something Friday night, for sure,” Ward said of the opportunity to win a district crown. “That’s something that was a goal for these kids when we started off the season.”