Story and photos by Doug Petrowski
Head Coach Nalin Sood is always looking to challenge his Mountlake Terrace Hawks basketball team, and they got one when they faced the Fairfax (Los Angeles) High School Lions on Monday. The Hawks rose to the challenge and defeated the Lions 38-36 in a gritty, defensive battle at the King Showcase in Kent.
The game came down to the last possession after Hawk Blake Fernandez missed the first of a 1-and-1 opportunity from the line with 8.4 seconds left in the game, giving the Lions one last gasp. Fairfax guard Jonathan Brown’s last-second jumper to tie was off the mark, giving Mountlake Terrace the victory.
Coach Sood was pleased with how his squad handled the talented visitors from southern California. “Really what that game came down, I thought we did a good job defensively,” Sood said. “They made some good plays – I’ll go back and watch the tape, but I can’t sit here and say it was because of our terrible defense – I’ve got to say they’re a pretty good basketball team and they make some pretty good plays. It just worked out for us in the end I guess.”
The Lions shot just 26.1 percent from the field in the first half, but that was still better than the 22.6 percent that Terrace could muster.
“(At the end of) the first half we were ahead by a little bit, 16-14, and I thought we were getting good looks. They just we’re going down,” Sood said. “Sometimes you just have to forget who you’re going against. It’s the same shots you got in practice. We got good looks, we just weren’t making them. In the second half maybe we just made some key baskets.”
Those key second half points helped the Hawks build a 36-31 lead with 2:30 to go in the game. After nearly a two-minute drought by both teams, the Lions cut the lead to 36-33 when Chaunce Hill dunked the ball with 39.2 seconds left.
Hawk Loren Lacasse hit two free throws with 22 seconds remaining to expand the lead to five again, 38-33. Then with 10 seconds left Brown drained a three-pointer to cut the Hawk lead to two, 38-36, setting up the dramatic final stages.
Although his missed free throw gave Fairfax one last hope, it was Fernandez’s defensive effort on Brown that may have been pivotal on the Lions’ last-second attempt for a tie. “We put Blake on (Brown); he’s a little longer, could keep him on the outside, and Blake pushed him into a tough shot,” Sood said.
Fernandez scored 11 points for the Hawks, three of which came on a no-look flip over his head while being fouled at the 4:41 mark of the third quarter; Fernandez converted that free throw. Teammate Greg Bowman also scored 11, tracked down 11 rebounds — five on the offensive boards — and had five blocks in the game.
Sood had praise for Bowman and his ability to perform in big match-ups. “When the lights are on, Greg steps up,” Sood said.
Hill led the Lions (13-8) with 12 points, eight of which came on slam dunks, in addition to grabbing 12 rebounds. Brown finished with eight points, as did teammate Sage Woodruff for Fairfax.
Sood credited past tournament experience and a one-point lost earlier this season to the Lincoln Abes for giving his team an edge in facing talented opposition in special settings like Monday’s game at the ShoWare Arena. “The more you can go through situations like that, the more you’re battle-tested,” he explained. “With Rainier Beach last year at the end, and Lincoln, you know that we’ve seen that a little bit. I can only put so much on a piece of paper; I can only say so much; I can only videotape it – the kids got to go experience it. And the more you experience it, the more that you’re going to be better prepared for it the next time. And that’s, I think, the case today.”
Fairfax coach Harvey Kitani spoke well of Terrace after his team’s lost. “They’re a good team,” he said. “I think one of their strengths is they play as a unit and players know their roles. I’m sure they will do well in the playoffs.”
Before the Hawks (8-1 in league play, 14-2 overall) can think about the district or state tournaments, they still have some Wesco matchups to contend with. They face Marysville-Pilchuck at Mountlake Terrace High School on Tuesday, Jan. 22, at 7:15 p.m., then have a big showdown with the team they are tied with at the top of the Wesco 3A South standings, Shorewood, on Friday, Jan. 25, at Shorewood High School. Terrace closes out the regular season at Shorecrest on Tuesday, Jan. 29, then at home versus Glacier Peak on Thursday, Jan. 31.
Mountlake Terrace quarter scoring: 11 – 5 – 11 – 11 – 38
Fairfax quarter scoring: 8 – 6 – 12 – 10 – 36
Mountlake Terrace individual scoring: Greg Bowman 11; Blake Fernandez 11; Marquis Armstead 8; Loren Lacasse 6; Jesse Zerom 2; Michael Lotz; LeTrae Sarden; Yohans Tewolde; Isaiah Green; Yoel Tekle
Fairfax individual scoring: Chaunce Hill 12; Jonathan Brown 8; Sage Woodruff 8; Reggie Theus Jr. 4; Olisaemeka Nwachie 2; Pierson Ro 2; Lindsey Drew; Tommy Mitchell; Antoine Monroe; Jelani Weaver