TACOMA — The Stanwood High School boys basketball team had an unlikely ride this season. Unfortunately for the Spartans, that ride has come to a stop.
Stanwood’s surprise return to the Class 3A Hardwood Classic proved to be a brief one as the Spartans were no match for the Eastside Catholic Crusaders, falling 63-37 in a loser-out game Wednesday morning at the Tacoma Dome.
Stanwood graduated almost the entirety of the team that placed fourth at last year’s state tournament, which was the best finish in school history. Therefore, it was an accomplishment just reaching state this year.
However, the 11th-seeded Spartans couldn’t keep up with the sixth-seeded Crusaders, who used their superior size and athleticism to remain in control from start to finish.
”That’s an athletic, long group that we played against today,” Stanwood coach Zach Ward said. “I thought you saw a group of Spartans that didn’t give up, even when we were down 20. That’s a good team and they took it to us, but I’m just proud of our guys and what we did this year.
“Last year’s group graduated eight guys, then these guys come through and they weren’t supposed to be here. They could have quit last year, but they just hung with it and they’re going to remember this forever.”
Brock Mackenzie scored 18 points and Jaylahn Tuimoloau added 12 for Eastside Catholic (22-6), which advanced to face fourth-seeded Kelso in the Thursday’s quarterfinals.
Nate Kummer had nine points and five steals, and Matt Vail chipped in with eight points and three blocks for Stanwood (17-8).
“We didn’t play the best we can play,” Kummer said. “We came out, an early-morning game, we were tired and shots weren’t falling for us. They just played better than us, we couldn’t rebound and they ran the court and got the fast-break points.”
Stanwood’s hope was that its older group — the Spartans have eight seniors, including four starters — would be an advantage over the youthful Crusaders, who started three freshmen.
But the age difference wasn’t enough to overcome the physical disparity, which manifested itself in two distinct ways. Stanwood found itself forcing things on offense and as a result turned the ball over 23 times. Then, when the Spartans managed to set up in their half-court offense, they weren’t able to establish any scoring in the paint.
“(The turnovers) kind of dictated the pace of the game,” Ward said. “We might have started locking up and playing a little tentative, and we’re not good when we do that. We’ve got to get out and play fast, and it’s hard to do that when you’re taking the ball out of the net or giving up transition buckets.”
Stanwood was able to stay close in the game’s opening minutes as both teams played ragged at the start. But Eastside Catholic found its groove midway through the first quarter, finishing on an 11-3 run to build a 16-9 lead, and the deficit gradually grew the rest of the game.