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When the Foss High School boys’ basketball team traveled to play the Steilacoom Sentinels on Tuesday, Dec. 19, it had all the makings of a barn burner. The Falcons entered the game undefeated in 2A South Puget Sound League play, with their only loss of the year happening at the hands of 3A powerhouse Eastside Catholic. Steilacoom also entered the game undefeated in league action, and also owning a surprising victory over a 3A squad from Stadium High School.

Something was going to have to give. As fate would have it, both teams sent the head-spinning contest all the way to the final buzzer, before the Falcons were able to raise their arms in victory.

Steilacoom head coach Gary Wusterbarth has been rolling out tough defenses for several decades now. In years where many other opponents may have had the edge in talent, it was Wusterbarth’s defenses that evened things up on the court, and brought the Sentinels many wins and post-season berths.

For a team built around speed, the Foss Falcons fell right into the hands of the Steilacoom defense through much of the first half. With hands in the passing lanes, and successful traps sprung all over the court, Steilacoom was snatching the ball from the Falcons left and right. By the time the first quarter had ended, the Sentinels’ defense had built a 19-13 lead for the home team.

Despite winning the 2A state championship two years ago, and reaching the state semifinals last season, the Foss Falcons have had a reputation for being a streaky, scrappy unit. Even though they were letting Steilacoom disrupt their offensive flow, they hung tough in the second quarter and took the lead at 25-24 midway through the period. The Sentinels were still getting buckets off of Foss turnovers, but the Falcons were returning the favor with some strong defensive stands and transition baskets.

Foss senior forward De’Ante Hill connected on a three-pointer from the angle with seconds remaining in the first half to push the Falcons’ lead to 35-30. Steilacoom had a good look at the buzzer, but senior wing-man Jaymason Willingham’s three-pointer caught back iron at the buzzer.

New Foss head coach Josh Barsh had his squad prepared coming out for the third quarter. The Falcons were going to have to weather the Sentinels’ storm coming out of the locker rooms, as any visiting team would. Instead of letting Steilacoom back into the game, the visitors were able to maintain their lead to the end of the third quarter with a 51-45 advantage, despite a three-pointer at the buzzer by senior Torrey Cady.

The fourth quarter saw the Foss lead grow to eight points several times in the first six minutes of action. Steilacoom then began making a move, closing to within three points at 61-58 with 1:01 left in the ballgame. With 4.2 seconds left in the game, Steilacoom sophomore Josh Shin hit three free throws to tie the game at 65-65.

That would be the end of the line for Steilacoom. Foss senior standout Micah Pollard converted a couple of free throws to give the Falcons a hard-fought 67-65 victory. Pollard led all scorers with 33 points. Cady paced Steilacoom with 28 points.

It won’t get any easier for the Falcons though. Should Foss advance to the 2A state tournament again this season, they may very well be the most battle-tested squad in the field. Foss will next play at 4A NPSL foe Mt. Rainier (7-2) on Friday, Dec. 21, followed by a road game against 3A PCL Bethel the following night. The Falcons will then compete in 3A Spanaway Lake’s Christmas tournament on Friday, Dec. 28, and Saturday, Dec. 29.

It doesn’t end there. Foss will then host the 3A defending state champions from Garfield on Wednesday, Jan. 2. After all that, the Falcons will return to league action with a road game against 8-0 Franklin Pierce on Friday, Jan. 4, followed by a home game Tuesday, Jan. 8 game against Renton (6-2) and a home match against Foster (4-2) on Friday, Jan. 11. The Steilacoom rematch at Foss will take place Tuesday, Jan. 22.

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