Stanwood boys hoops clinches regional berth in tight battle

Jake Cleary’s 18 points led the way for the Spartans in a 59-58 victory over Shorewood.

EVERETT — After a four-point effort against Marysville Pilchuck and a cold first half on Saturday against Shorewood, Stanwood boys basketball head coach Zach Ward wasn’t afraid to challenge sophomore Jake Cleary.

The 6-foot-1 guard listened to his coach’s message loud and clear, answering the bell with 13 third-quarter points and a key defensive play in the waning seconds of regulation to help lead the Spartans (15-6) over Shorewood, 59-58, Saturday at Everett Community College.

“He’s a kid that’s had a great year as a sophomore and no one wanted to see him end his sophomore season with a couple of tough nights,” said Ward, who coached Stanwood to its seventh consecutive berth to the Class 3A state regionals. “We just said keep shooting it. You’ve come this far, you’ve had a great season.”

Cleary’s outburst in the third stanza provided the Spartans a five-point lead at the end of the period. Stanwood eventually built it to 10 with about five minutes remaining in regulation.

Shorewood (8-14) chipped away at the deficit and eventually tied the game at 58 after a pair of layups from Spencer Osborn.

Cort Roberson made a free throw with 10.9 seconds left after Thunderbirds’ senior Skyler Hammer was whistled for over-the-back foul on an offensive-rebound attempt. The Thunderbirds had a chance to win the game, but couldn’t get a shot off due a deflection from none other than Cleary.

“We told those off-ball guys you can’t sleep you have to be aware,” Ward said. “And that’s how Jake got that tip.”

It was a revenge game of sorts for Stanwood, as the Thunderbirds won 69-61 in a Dec. 21 matchup between the two teams this season.

Mitch Jones led the Spartans in the first half with 15 points, showcasing his nimble feet and passing ability from the post, but was limited in the second half after picking up his fourth foul late in the third quarter. He didn’t check in until the 4:30 mark of the final period and scored just two points in the second half.

“Credit those kids that came up and gave really valuable minutes and actually built the lead,” Ward said.

Their contributions mean Jones’ career won’t end before carrying on the recent Stanwood tradition of advancing past the district tournament.

“It means a lot,” Jones said. “I was the only returning varsity player from last year, and for the young kids to come up and step up and make it possible for me and the other senior we have on the team (Ethan Nicholson) is just awesome.”

The two teams were knotted at 29 after a back-and-forth first half, and Shorewood eventually claimed a 42-39 midway through the third, but Cleary ripped off an 8-0 run by himself with a layup and bookended by two 3-pointers to swing the momentum in the Spartans’ favor.

Cleary’s 18 points led the way for Stanwood, and Jones chipped in 17.

Hammer’s game-high 24 points led the Thunderbirds.

Hammer fouled out on the decisive over-the-back call with 10.9 seconds left and his presence was sorely missed on the Thunderbirds’ last possession.

Shorewood came just short of a state regional berth, but falling a victory short of state after winning just a single game the year before is nothing to scoff at.

“I’m extremely proud of them,” Shorewood head coach George Edwards said. “To come from where we came from, where we had one win last year. One. To beat these guys earlier in the season and come battle back to a one-point game, I can’t say much more. They gave it every thing they had and they just came a tad short.

“I hope it’s something to build on.”

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