Last season, there were several high school basketball teams from the City of Destiny that flirted with a state championship run. When the dust settled following the various boys and girls state tournaments, there were a handful of trophies that would be finding a spot in their school’s trophy case.
However, there was only one that brought home the big, golden basketball that is reserved for a state championship squad.
When the Henry Foss Falcons captured the boys’ 2A state basketball championship on March 4, 2017, they had run through the sort of obstacle course that a top-ranked team should have never had to experience. Of course, we’re all too familiar with the fallout from the WIAA’s rather ham-fisted and seemingly rushed foray into the RPI rankings format.
Foss was considered by sportswriters statewide to be one of the top-three teams in the state at the beginning of last season. When the initial RPI rankings came out, the Falcons were so far down the list that most folks in the know thought it must be an error. When the next RPI rankings arrived, Foss had barely inched up the standings.
By the time the Falcons had finished the regular season as the undefeated champions of the 2A South Puget Sound League, they had still gained little ground. To make matters worse, the WIAA had not factored in post-season play to the RPI equation. So even though the Falcons would go on to win the 2A district championship, by the time the state tournament came calling, they were an abysmal 13th. Meanwhile, they were ranked second in the Associated Press poll, with nearly as many first place votes as their top pick.
Foss would then have to take their game on the road, instead of hosting a regional contest. They would also have to play in the opening round, when the other top-ranked squads got to cool their heels.
In the end, it didn’t matter. Foss closed-out the season with 14 consecutive victories and a state championship that also seemed to thumb a collective nose at the powers that be. It was almost a Cinderella story. However, they were never a Cinderella to begin with.
The Falcons began the year considered one of the top dogs, and they finished the year as the top dog.
While it’s still a feel-good story, that business is now in the rearview mirror for the defending champs. After losing two Tacoma Weekly All-City performers to graduation, the Falcons were going to have to find out who they are in this new season. Young, untested talent is going to have to step up, while leaders such as senior Demetrius Crosby are going to have to take the reins and help temper a team that often plays at light speed.
Before we get into their recent thriller against Fife, let’s take a look at the new RPI rankings delivered by the WIAA. After tweaking the criteria, it looks as though they have finally figured it out. Foss entered the first set of rankings in fourth place, which seems rather fitting for a defending champion with a solid number of experienced players returning.
The Fife Trojans (10th in the new RPI) hosted the Falcons on Friday, Dec. 7, at John McCrossin Court. This was the sort of matchup that was going to speak volumes about each team. Fife returned a lineup largely intact from a team that nearly made the state tournament last year. Playing at home, they were going to be buoyed by their crowd, and that’s exactly how it went down.
At times, the game looked more like a tennis match with fans heads spinning left to right and back again at seemingly breakneck speed. At the end of the first quarter, the teams were tied at 19-19 and we had the makings of a barnburner.
No matter what Foss threw at Fife, the Trojans kept answering in the second quarter and the Trojans took a 42-39 going into the locker room.
The third quarter had the feel of a heavyweight prize fight, with both teams dishing it out and then answering the other. By the end of the third stanza, Foss held a slim 58-56 lead over the Trojans and the Fife High School gym felt like it was hosting a playoff game.
Neither team could shake the other in the fourth quarter and it came down to the final seconds in regulation. With six seconds left on the clock, senior Micah Pollard made two free throws and the game went into overtime at 72-72.
The teams played to a stalemate in the first overtime. Each team could only muster eight points in the four-minute period and the game went into a second overtime at 80-80.
The second overtime was like a Falcon avalanche. While Fife gave it their all, they had nothing to counter the Foss onslaught. In four minutes time, the Falcons racked up 19 points to run away with a 99-91 victory in front of a breathless crowd.
Foss (4-1) returns to action on Friday, Dec. 15, when they host Foster at 7 p.m. Foss will then play Marysville-Pilchuck (6th in the 3A RPI) on Thursday, Dec. 21, at Curtis High School. Tip-off is at 4 p.m.