STANWOOD — The Stanwood High School boys basketball team knew it needed a win to keep pace in a crowded race at the top of the Wesco 3A/2A standings.
And after Mountlake Terrace knocked off preseason league favorite Shorecrest on Wednesday, the Spartans also knew their opponents Thursday night weren’t going to go down easy.
Thanks to a gritty performance, Stanwood is still in the thick of a league-title chase.
The Spartans seemingly had an answer for every Mountlake Terrace push in a tense final quarter that featured four ties and seven lead changes, the Hawks couldn’t get a shot off with a chance to take the lead on the final possession and Stanwood pulled out a thrilling 63-62 league victory.
“I think the boys did exactly what we asked them to,” first-year Spartans head coach Josh Thayer said. “I know it was a little bit closer than what we would have wanted at the end, but we got the win — a huge win. It makes it a little bit interesting at the top of the standings now with everybody losing to somebody (else).”
With the score tied up at 51 in the fourth quarter, sophomore Max Mayo drove into the lane and kicked the ball out to senior Mack Hepper in the left corner. Hepper rose up and buried a 3-pointer with 3:32 left to put Stanwood (7-5, 6-2 league) up 54-51.
Mountlake Terrace (8-2, 5-2) answered back with a pair of free throws by senior Jeffrey Anyimah to pull within 54-53, but Stanwood pushed its lead to 56-53 when Hepper found senior Kolten Bartram-Scott for a bucket in the paint.
A pair of free throws by Hawks sophomore Zaveon Jones made it 56-55 with 2:41 left.
That’s when standout Kaeden McGlothin, who had missed Stanwood’s previous five games with an ankle injury and had just one point coming into the fourth quarter, came up with one of the biggest shots of the night.
The 6-foot-7 senior pulled up for a 3-pointer at the top of the arc and made it at 59-55 with 2:22 remaining.
Jones and Stanwood’s John Floyd traded a pair of made free throws before Jones came up with a steal, drove straight to the basket and finished through contact to start a three-point play that made it 61-60 with 52 seconds left.
A Mountlake Terrace steal led to a breakaway layup that rimmed off, and Floyd calmly knocked down two more free throws to put the Spartans up 63-60.
Chris Meegan’s layup with 8.2 seconds remaining made it 63-62. The Hawks came up with a steal on the inbounds pass but couldn’t convert a contested look in the paint.
Mountlake Terrace grabbed the offensive rebound, called timeout with 2.2 seconds left and drew up a play for a chance at a game-winner. But the Hawks never got a shot off, and Stanwood’s players and fans let out a roaring cheer as the final buzzer sounded.
“We came out with energy. We’ve been struggling with starting with energy. We just came out playing,” Bartram-Scott said. “… We played pretty good defense and our offense was good, too. We just executed everything we needed to do.”
Junior Owen Thayer scored a team-high 15 points to lead a balanced attack for Stanwood. Bartram-Scott chipped in 14 points, Mayo had 10 and Floyd seven, including the four crucial free throws in the closing stretch.
McGlothin’s return also provided a needed boost for Stanwood, which was coming off a pair of lopsided losses in his absence. Though he scored just four points in limited minutes, his presence was felt on the defensive end with his game-changing combination of length and athleticism.
“It makes us a lot longer, a lot bigger,” Josh Thayer said of having McGlothin back. “He can go up and get whatever board he wants to at any point of the game. It’s really good to have him back. He’s a huge presence. I think a lot of eyes go towards him offensively, too. … It opens other things up.”
The victory helped Stanwood avoid falling to three losses in conference play and move to just one game behind first-place Arlington (7-1 league). The Spartans hold a tiebreaker over Arlington after their 62-56 win on Jan. 7.
In the process they also handed Mountlake Terrace its second conference loss and now hold a tiebreaker over the Hawks.
Anyimah paced Mountlake Terrace with 18 points, Meegan had 12, Jones 11 and Vito Mkrtychan 10.
Stanwood held a 17-16 lead after the first quarter as both teams went back and forth and each knocked down three 3-pointers.
The Spartans held the biggest lead of the night at 25-16 in the second after Owen Thayer hit a pair of free throws with 4:23 left. Mountlake Terrace senior Adison Mattix scored five straight points at the end of the quarter to make it 29-26 Stanwood.
Meegan’s bucket with 3:11 left in the third quarter gave Mountlake Terrace its first lead of the second half at 35-33.
“I thought we were pretty gritty,” Josh Thayer said. “… We knew it was going to be a dogfight. I thought the boys came out ready to go from the opening tip, matched energy and matched toughness.”