TACOMA — Mountlake Terrace simply did not have anything left in the tank.
After an emotionally and physically draining first-round overtime loss to Prairie, the Hawks were unable to get on track against Walla Walla and ended up falling 55-35 in a loser-out Class 4A state boys basketball tournament game March 13 at the Tacoma Dome.
For the second straight game, Mountlake Terrace struggled offensively, scoring a meager five points in a difficult first quarter.
The Blue Devils took a 10-point lead into the second quarter and extended it to 14 by halftime. Walla Walla’s lead was cut to 11 points two minutes into the fourth quarter, but that would be as close as the Hawks would get the rest of the night.
“We tried to push any button we could today and we just couldn’t get a response,” said Mountlake Terrace coach Nalin Sood. “It wasn’t that the kids weren’t trying. It wasn’t that they weren’t focused. They weren’t getting anything from within. It was just because last night took so much out of them.”
The only Hawk to score in double figures was senior guard Sean Gearin, who had 10 points. Mountlake Terrace shot only 36 percent from the field and made only one of nine 3-point goals.
Walla Walla was 54 percent from the field. Pierce Johnson and Craig Mettler each scored 15 points for the Blue Devils.
In its first-round game, the Hawks trailed Prairie for virtually the entire game but battled back to take a 52-49 lead on a Justin Christianson basket and a pair of free throws by senior center Ryan Strieby.
But the Wolves tied by the score at 52 on a 3-pointer by Patrick Oury with 12.4 seconds left in regulation.
Mountlake Terrace then had a chance to win the game but a last second shot rolled off the rim and the game went into overtime. Prairie seized the momentum and outscored the Hawks 10-6 in overtime to advance to the quarterfinals with a 62-55 victory.
“I think it did take a lot out of us because it was so close,” Strieby said of the loss to Prairie. “We had that game right in our hands and just let it get away.”
Strieby scored a team-high 17 points and Gearin added 15. Prairie was led by John McKee, who tallied 20 points. The Wolves shot 50 percent from the field, while the Hawks connected on 43 percent of its shots.
Sood was proud of the way his team rallied against Prairie.
“I don’t think there’s any team that played with more passion, more enthusiasm, more energy,” he said. “So I’m not disappointed.”
Strieby, one of six Mountlake Terrace seniors, was glad to have had the opportunity to play at the state tournament. This was the Hawks’ first state appearance since 2000.
“It was a lot of fun coming down here,” Strieby said. “It’s what it’s all about — the top teams in the state. It was a good run for us, even though it ended on a sour note. We still think it was a successful season.”
To advance to the state tournament, Mountlake Terrace (16-10 overall) had to win three straight loser-out district playoffs games after dropping its playoff opener.
“We could have packed it in a couple of weeks ago,” Sood said. “Our theme all year was poise, energy and unselfishness and we had to do those things to maintain, (to) still stay in the playoffs. We showed tremendous poise … to win three loser-out games.
“These guys did everything possible to get here.”
Two years ago, Mountlake Terrace fell two games shy of advancing to state. Last year, the Hawks lost a winner-to state/loser-out contest.
The loss prompted the juniors on that team, who are this year’s seniors, to vow that they were going to lead the Hawks to state.
“We put a lot of work in the offseason — fall, summer and spring league,” Strieby said. “We didn’t want it to end like last year, so we wanted to take it a step farther … we worked that much harder in the offseason.”
The dedication his players showed made Sood’s job easy.
“These guys always, always showed up ready to work,” he said. “They should feel proud about what they did … I wish more coaches could have the problems I have because I didn’t have too many, none whatsoever.”
The Hawks will lose their top two scorers in Strieby (14.9 points per game) and Gearin (12.5) but do return their third leading scorer in sophomore point guard Luke Hammond (10.7). Starting sophomore forward Mike Boxley will be back but senior forward Christianson is graduating.
“We’ve got some good young guys that are talented and they’re going to have a good work ethic,” Sood said. “I think right now they’re going to come back and say we’re going to go one step further.”
This year’s seniors came down to the Tacoma Dome as freshman and were able to soak in the experience of being at the state tournament. Sood is hoping that the younger players also will reap the benefits of being a part of a team that advanced to state.
“You know what to shoot for and you know how hard you have to work,” said Sood. “Hopefully, the younger guys have that experience, that idea and perspective about what they need to do and … they can put that all together.”