SLIM PICKINGS A few state trophies for Tacoma teams

It looked like a wrestling move, but that was a week prior at the Tacoma Dome. Lincoln junior Faith Brantley fights for possession and ends up in an arm-lock. When Brantley attempted to extract herself from the situation, Stanwood’s Kayla Frazier flopped backward and Brantley was called for a technical foul. Photo by Rocky Ross

Like a fireworks show that lasted four long days, once the state basketball tournaments ended at the Tacoma Dome on Saturday, March 3, there was a feeling of reverence and emptiness for many local basketball fans. They had witnessed some of the most amazing state tournament basketball in years, and they also had to say goodbye to their teams for another nine months. Of course, it is even harder to bid farewell to the seniors of those teams.

Curtis senior Zack Paulsen soars to the basket. The Curtis boys had it rough, facing Federal Way and Enumclaw in successive games. Photo by Rocky Ross

This is especially difficult when so many local teams fell short of where they probably should have finished in their respective state basketball tournaments.

When the various tournaments kicked off on Wednesday, Feb. 28, the Tacoma area had a whopping 12 teams participating in Tacoma, Yakima and Spokane. When the smoke cleared and dust settled on the events statewide, only three of those teams would advance far enough in their respective tournaments to earn a trophy.

Lincoln senior Willie Thomas III throws it down. Photo by Rocky Ross

Upsets happen every year at these tournaments. Sometimes it’s because a team may have hit a slump. Other times, the massive environs surrounding the basketball courts can play tricks on the psyches of young men and women unaccustomed to the big lights and spotlight. Then there are the times when a team plays at their highest level, but they run headlong into another team that is clicking at an even loftier pace.

The tournaments began with the Bellarmine Prep girls, Curtis boys, Lincoln boys and girls, Wilson boys, Henry Foss boys, Fife boys, Life Christian boys and girls, Mt. Rainier Lutheran boys and girls and the boys from Tacoma Baptist. It was a bit of a shock when five of those squads were ousted on the first day of the tournament.

It’s going to be tough not seeing the highlight-reel dunks from Wilson’s Emmett Thomas Jr. We’ll have to see him on television playing with UCONN next season. Photo by Rocky Ross

This seemed like the year for the Lincoln Abes. Not only the fantastic boys’ basketball teams, but their Lady Abe counterparts as well. The two squads entered tournament play with a combined 48-2 record, and despite strong fields on either side, the two teams were definitely in the “favorite” side of predictions.

What transpired was a vastly different tale for the two teams.

The Lincoln boys had earned a first-round bye in the regional round and would await the winner between Seattle Prep and Timberline Blazers. What came out of that game was a Blazers team that looked white-hot. Timberline’s star Eric Stevenson had dropped 41 or 43 points in the contest (there was a discrepancy) and looked like the kind of player who could take over and will a team to victory over anybody.

No one expected to see the Bellarmine Prep Lady Lions being ousted on the first day of the tournament. Photo by Rocky Ross

What played out was akin to a heavyweight title fight. Lincoln trailed by one after the first quarter, and then doubled up Timberline in the second period to take a 10-point lead into halftime. The Blazers would nip away at the lead in the third quarter, even though Stevenson was playing with foul trouble. The future Wichita State player got hot at the end of the fourth quarter, but fell a degree short as the Lincoln defense closed the book on their comeback with a 64-63 victory.

It was the second year in a row that the Lincoln boys would win their way into a 3A state semifinal game. Unlike last season, when the Abes played what amounted to a manufactured all-star team, this time the Abes would be facing just your run of the mill sort of perennial powerhouse in the Rainier Beach Vikings.

The Abes led the Vikings for nearly 23 minutes of their contest. For the second straight day, Lincoln had served up an incredible performance for the local basketball faithful and they nearly rewarded them with a berth into the state championship game the following night. However, Rainier Beach would outscore Lincoln 26-18 in the fourth quarter, and that would prove to be the clincher as the Vikings walked on with a 73-67 victory.

Following the loss, the big question was how (or if) the Abes were going to be able to bounce back after the emotional defeat. Lincoln looked a little shaky in the early moments of their third-place game against Eastside Catholic, but got stronger as the first half rolled on. By the half, Lincoln trailed 33-26, but looked more than ready to answer the bell in the third quarter.

Lincoln came out bound and determined to finish their season on the right note in the third quarter. By the end of the fourth, the Abes had worn down Eastside and taken the lead. When the final buzzer sounded, the Abes stood victorious with a 64-59 win. They earned every bit of that 3A third-place state trophy against a very stout field.

On the flip side, the Lincoln Lady Abes had a hard time getting their motor started. The 3A Pierce County League and West Central District champions couldn’t seem to find their groove, nor their shot, in their game against a hungry Stanwood. The first two quarters saw both teams dish out a great deal of hustle, and that was about it. Shots weren’t falling for either team and it felt as though the bright lights of the tournament were having their effect on both squads.

The Lady Abes would go cold in the second half, just when they needed to heat up a little. Meanwhile, Stanwood matched Lincoln’s speed and spun together a shocking 49-39 victory over the top-seeded team in the tournament. It didn’t help Lincoln out the next day when they would face a Kamiakin squad that had also been one of the favorites in the tournament. The matchup was pretty much a stalemate for three quarters of play, but it was the third quarter that proved to be the big difference for Kamiakin, as they outscored the Lady Abes 21-15 on their way to a 57-49 victory that would shockingly bounce Lincoln out of a tournament they had sights on winning.

Bellarmine Prep had a very similar outcome in their tournament appearance. After losing in the regional round, the Lady Lions would have to play in the first round of the 4A girls tournament against a tall and quick University Titans squad from Spokane. With their all-state center and leader of the team, Shalyse Smith, sitting on the bench with an injured ankle, the Lady Lions were hard-pressed to keep up with the talented Titans on both ends of the court. The eight-point halftime University lead stretched to a 21-point lead by the end of the third quarter. University would cruise to a 72-48 win and Bellarmine’s season came to a close.

The Curtis Vikings boys team looked strong and ready for a big tournament run following their 66-56 opening-round win over Davis. However, the Vikings would run up against the Federal Way Eagles the following night, and while they hung tight for much of the contest, the Eagles proved to be too much and ran away with a 73-60 victory. Curtis would try to bounce back the next day, but Enumclaw was bound and determined to get a trophy and edged the Vikings 45-44 in a thriller.

The Wilson Rams gave it everything they had in their opening-round matchup with a Prairie squad that had edged them in district play. Prairie held the lead for much of the game, but Wilson kept battling and firing away. By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, the Rams were hot and in their element. A 21-12 fourth period led to a 65-60 victory for the Rams and a date with Rainier Beach in the quarterfinals.

Despite outshooting and outrebounding Rainier Beach, Wilson was unable to hold the Vikings in check. Turnovers proved to be deadly for the Rams, yet they found themselves within four points with three minutes left in the game. At this point, the Vikings hit the gas pedal again and ran to an 80-70 win. Now fighting for their tournament lives, Wilson would face a Timberline team that still had quite a bit in the tank. Wilson held a six-point lead after three quarters and then Timberline heated up, outscoring the Rams 30-16 in the final stanza to take a 73-65 win and end Wilson’s season.

The defending 2A boys state champions had their dreams of a repeat performance dashed by a rough first half in the semifinals against W.F. West. After a 76-72 victory over a solid squad from Liberty in the quarterfinals, the Falcons looked to keep the motor firing. Instead, W.F. West ran out to a 14-3 lead after the first period and extended that lead to 14 points at one time. The Falcons fought back in the fourth quarter, and it looked as though the usual fourth quarter Foss run was going to come into fruition. However, the big shots wouldn’t fall, including two three pointers in the final eight seconds in their 53-50 loss. Foss was unable to bounce back in the third-place game, falling to Mark Morris 69-59 for a fifth-place finish.

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Tacoma Baptist was a dark horse in the 1B field and played like they had a point to make. After defeating Naselle 50-47 in the first round, the Crusaders would face the eventual champions from Sunnyside Christian. The favorites were too much for the Crusaders and cruised to a 65-42 win. Tacoma Baptist would bounce back the following day and handed Cedar Park Christian a 49-47 win. A cold third quarter spelled doom for Tacoma Baptist against Odessa in the fourth-place game, and the Crusaders would have to settle for the sixth-place trophy following their 57-41 defeat.

Life Christian sent their boys and girls team to Spokane with some high hopes for success. A rough first half proved to be too much for the boys in their opening-round matchup with Brewster, and the Eagle boys were bounced from the 2B tournament with the 60-55 loss. The girls handed La Conner a 55-30 thumping in the opening round. Despite a stellar performance, the girls would fall to the eventual runners-up in the quarterfinals by a score of 51-43. An overtime thriller didn’t end well for Life Christian in the consolation bracket, as the Eagles fell 48-44 and their tournament run was ended.

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