MOUNTLAKE TERRACE — With a chance to stay on top of the Wesco 3A/2A standings as league play starts to heat up, Friday night’s clash between Mountlake Terrace and Stanwood was a chance for both squads to earn a signature victory and solidify an early push for a league title.
This time it was the Spartans who walked away with the upper hand.
Jake Cleary scored 11 of his game-high 18 points in the first half, Stanwood pushed its lead to as many as 12 points in the third quarter and the Spartans hung on after a furious fourth-quarter comeback by the Hawks for a key 53-51 conference win at Mountlake Terrace High School.
“We knew we were coming into a tough environment, (Mountlake Terrace coach) Nalin (Sood) does a super job, that’s a good team right there,” Stanwood coach Zach Ward said. “… kind of a statement game for us … it’s hard to come in this building and win. Not many teams do it. I thought we played great for about … 28 minutes.”
The Spartans (9-2, 5-0 Wesco 3A/2A) led by 12 points multiple times throughout the third period with sophomore Kaeden McGlothin and juniors Cleary and Cort Roberson combining to score all 17 of the team’s points in the quarter. Mountlake Terrace (7-2, 3-1) trimmed the lead down to seven at 42-35 after a 3-pointer from sophomore Jeffrey Anyimah and a bucket from junior Jace Breakfield in the final minute of the third.
Stanwood pushed its lead back out to nine at 48-39 in the fourth, but Mountlake Terrace wasn’t about to go away. The Hawks stormed back midway through the period with an 8-0 run, highlighted by a pair of 3-pointers from junior Robbie Baringer, to pull within 48-47 with 4:19 remaining in regulation.
“We got going in the second half,” Sood said. “I’m glad we woke up. We started being more aggressive. The kids had good execution and it’s funny how good execution can look when you’re more aggressive. When your driving and kick, when you’re driving to the paint. Instead of having a passive mentality.”
Neither team could get anything to fall after the Hawks’ run, as Stanwood and Mountlake Terrace both went scoreless for 3:15 until Stanwood’s Darren Smith converted a 3-point play after scoring on an off-balance shot from just behind the right block to make it 51-47. The Hawks cut it back to a two-point deficit with a bucket from Breakfield in the post with 35.2 seconds remaining.
Roberson and Mountlake Terrace senior Mason Christianson traded a pair of free throws before Stanwood missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 13.1 seconds to go to give Mountlake Terrace a shot to tie or take the lead. Breakfield grabbed an offensive rebound off a missed 3-point attempt and was fouled on the putback try with 0.2 seconds remaining and a chance to tie. But the first attempt rimmed out and a lane violation ended any hopes of a tip-in to tie and the Spartans hung on for a key victory in league play.
“I think when you see two teams, similar talent, both well coached and a team gets out to a double-digit lead, it’s hard to come back,” Ward said. “You saw them make that run and come back. Our biggest thing was to just not give up the lead. I think it’s tough when you expend all that energy to come back and never get the lead.”
Roberson added 16 points and McGlothin nine for Stanwood.
The 53 points scored was a season low for the Spartans, who came into the game scoring at least 60 points in nine of ten contests. The scoring output was just enough as Stanwood delivered a strong defensive performance, imploring a half-court trap to create pressure, and claim an eighth straight victory.
“It’s a way for us to get energy,” Ward said, “and we have a batch of certain kids that like to play that way. Sometimes when we’re struggling defensively, we’ll do that to try and get energy — they get excited — and it forces to play fast. We just stayed in it a little longer tonight than we normally do because we had the success.”
Breakfield netted a team-high 15 for the Hawks, Baringer had 11 and Christianson added 10.
Mountlake Terrace jumped out to an early 6-4 lead in the first, but Stanwood answered back with a 10-0 run, sparked by nine points from Cleary, to go up 14-6. Cleary started the run with six straight points and capped it with a 3-pointer. The Spartans never trailed after.
In the second quarter, McGlothin picked off a pass and went straight down to the court to deliver a thunderous two-handed dunk to put the Spartans up 23-15 with 2:04 to go. Mountlake Terrace answered back just over a minute later when Christianson found Baringer for a triple to cut the Hawks’ deficit to 23-18 with 45 seconds remaining in the half, but Stanwood pushed its lead back out to seven with a pair of free throws from Cleary and closed the half with a 25-18 advantage.
“We didn’t play consistent tonight,” Sood said. “We just were not as consistent with our aggressiveness, with our execution, but that’s what (Stanwood does) to people. You gotta give them credit. That’s what they do. That’s why they have the record they do.”