By Doug Petrowski
When Mountlake Terrace High School senior Marquis Armstead was asked Friday what it would mean for his Hawk team to bring home a trophy from the 3A Boys Basketball Championships in Tacoma, he answered, “It means everything to us, especially after last year going 0-2.” While the Hawks couldn’t find a victory at state last season, this year’s squad finished 2-1 and captured fourth place in the tourney after defeating the Seattle Prep Panthers, 54-43, on Saturday.
“We came down here wanting to win the state title,” Hawk Head Coach Nalin Sood after Saturday’s win. “There’s a lot of teams that don’t, so is this going to be a failure for everybody? No. We feel very fortunate to be going home with a fourth-place trophy.”
Despite a slow start – only six points in the first quarter – it was Terrace that was able to sustain a gritty determination for 32 minutes over a Seattle Prep squad that seemed a step slower. The spirit showed by Terrace didn’t surprise their coach. “There’s a lot of emotion in there right now,” Sood said of his team’s locker room following the game. “There wasn’t just, let’s go play an extra game. This mattered.”
“But you know, every time we practiced, they could be going against a JV team, they could be going against each other, their competitiveness was unbelievable,” Sood continued. “It takes a really special group of kids, a really special group of seniors, to have a year like this. Ask anybody – they’ve got to have some special qualities, character-wise, and these guys do. Sixty practices, 27 games, the amount of time we put in, every day they’ve come in ready to learn, ready to work, wanting to be better.”
Saturday’s game was the last for the many seniors on the squad, a fact not lost on Coach Sood. “This is all about the seniors. The seniors did go out there on a great positive note. If we had lost the game would have it been the end of the world? No, but they can feel awfully validated, I think, with the work they’ve put in and the time they’ve put in.”
“There’s a lot of coaches that will walk out here feeling that they are the luckiest coach in the game of basketball – that’s how I feel right now,” Sood added.
Saturday’s game against Seattle Prep was a back-and-forth battle until the Hawks extended a two-point lead to eight during the first two minutes of the fourth quarter. After a Panther timeout, the lead was cut to five points, but Seattle Prep couldn’t get any closer. Terrace made seven of nine free throws in the final quarter to keep the Panthers at bay and help secure the victory.
The Hawk defense shut down Seattle Prep in the final eight minutes, only allowing two field goals and six made free throws in the fourth period. Team three-point shooting played a big factor in the match-up; the Panthers built their 23-19 halftime lead primarily on shooting 5-10 from behind the three-point arc in the first half. Seattle Prep missed all nine of their second-half three-point attempts.
The Panthers’ senior DJ Fenner came into Saturday’s contest averaging 28 points per game, but was held scoreless in the first half and finishing with just nine points against Terrace. The 6-6 guard picked up his fourth foul with 1:48 remaining, then said something heard by a referee, who immediately issued a technical foul. The fifth foul ended Fenner’s game, followed by Hawk guard Blake Fernandez making four consecutive free throws, and any hope Seattle Prep had to mount a last-minute comeback was effectively over.
Fenner’s nine points, accomplished from 2-for-14 shooting from the field and 5-8 from the free throw line, was just over half of his lowest point total for any game this season, when he scored 17 vs. Franklin, on Jan. 29. Sood pointed to the defensive work of Armstead as a key to Fenner’s difficulties. “It seemed that Marquis frustrated him today,” he said.
Sood praised the contributions of his guards to the overall success of the team at the championship tournament. “If we’re going to come down here and do well at state, you’ve got to have great perimeter play,” he said. “Jesse (Zerom), Blake and Marquis, you’ve got to hand it to those guys. You coach them as much as you can, but they took it to the next step. It’s a real credit to the senior backcourt and how they’ve played down here for three days.”
All three perimeter players contributed in scoring in Saturday’s game, with Fernandez and Armstead leading the team with 11 points each, and Zerom adding seven. Frontline starters Loren Lacasse and Greg Bowman also got in on the scoring act; Lacasse tallied 10 while Bowman added eight.
The Mountlake Terrace boys basketball team finished the 2012-2013 season with a 23-4 record.
Mountlake Terrace quarter scoring: 6 – 13 – 16 – 19 – 54
Seattle Prep quarter scoring: 13 – 10 – 10 – 10 – 43
Mountlake Terrace individual scoring: Marquis Armstead 11; Blake Fernandez 11; Loren Lacasse 10; Greg Bowman 8; Jesse Zerom 7; Michael Lotz 5; LeTrae Sarden 2; Yohans Tewolde; Yoel Tekle; Isaiah Green
Seattle Prep individual scoring: Angelo Marchesini 11; DJ Fenner 9; Jack Stewart 6; Sean Gummersall 6; Mark Caindec 6; Laurence Hicks 2; Jack Roger 2; Jordan Kitchen 1; Thomas Haggarty; Demetrius Simmons