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SLIDESHOW: Hornets’ fairy tale season closes with run at state title
By John Leggett
After heading into Saturday night’s Class 3A state championship basketball tilt in the Tacoma Dome with a 27-0 record and a No. 1 ranking in the state polls, it was no small wonder that Enumclaw’s 51-50 setback at the hands of unranked Union High was so difficult to fathom.
Seemingly, half the town of Enumclaw trekked to Tacoma to watch what seemed destined to be the fairy tale culmination of a perfect season. When Union High senior guard Chris Morgan cooly sank back-to-back free throws from the charity stripe to first tie, then go ahead of the unbeaten Hornets with eight seconds remaining in the game, the EHS faithful’s visions of their school’s first 3A state basketball title were dashed.
Morgan’s heroics came while competing with the thunderous noise of Enumclaw’s raucous rooters and with a realization that he hadn’t exactly been shooting lights out, going 2-for-19 from the floor during the tournament finale.
“When I came to the line, I thought to myself what an unlikely hero I was,” Morgan said. “Unlikely, because I had scored exactly six points.”
He attributed the uncommon output to Enumclaw’s stingy defense and the loud Hornet fans.
“I could hardly hear myself think, and to top it all off Enumclaw called timeout between the foul shots so I could think for awhile longer how crucial those foul shots were,” said Union’s team captain.
Enumclaw’s senior contingent emerged from the crestfallen losing locker room with tear-stained cheeks, but refused to make excuses.
“We had had trouble holding leads in each of the games throughout the tournament,” explained 6-foot, 6-inch EHS center Tarren VanTrojen. “We basically just picked a bad night to play our worst game of the tournament, but we had a pretty good run and I can’t think of a better group of guys to have played with in my senior year. I’ll never forget this team and the great season we had.”
“None of us really thought that it was the officials’ fault that we lost,” Riley Carel said. “The game was really close in the end. Union made the clutch shots when they had to and we didn’t.”
Between Morgan’s foul shots, the Hornets charted a strategy for the final seconds.
Carel dribbled the length of the floor and, finding his path to the hoop blocked, was forced to take a tough shot from the outside.
Hornet coach Phil Engebretsen, who earned South Puget Sound League 3A coach of the year accolades for the second time in as many seasons, obviously wore a disappointed expression after his squad’s only loss of the season, but would only say, “I would take second in state anytime, if it meant I could coach such a fine group of young men as these guys.”
The Hornet cagers provided thrilling contests for their fans along the road to the state championship game, prevailing over three ranked squads in nail biters, beating Meadowdale 49-43, Bellevue 66-63 and Shadle Park 46-34.
The Shadle Park game was a representation of just how good the Hornets were defensively. The high-powered offense of the Highlanders, led by hot-shooting forward Robby Douglas, put up a goose egg in the first quarter and the game appeared to be over by intermission. Shadle Park, the 3A pride of the east side of the state, never really seemed to recover from that unlikely turn of events.
In that semifinal rendezvous with the Highlanders, EHS guards Carel and Taylor Myers combined to score 31 of Enumclaw’s 46 points.
In the quarterfinals, Bellevue High was anxious to get revenge on the Hornets for beating the Wolverines in the Martin Luther King Holiday Hoopfest at the University of Washington arena on Jan. 18. That wasn’t how it went down though as all five of Enumclaw’s senior starters scored in double figures. Led by Carel’s 18 points, the Hornets also got 13 points from Jason Lewis, a dozen from Coleman Clyde, 11 from Myers and 10 from VanTrojen.
The slow-starting Wolverines, trailing 33-25 at the break, outscored Enumclaw 38-33 in the second half thanks mostly to the exceptional sharpshooting of senior guard Aaron Bright, who scored 28 points in the wild affair. The talented Bright, who will be playing for Stanford next season, accepted the loss with the poise of a champion, giving credit to Enumclaw’s defense for keeping Bellevue at bay late in the contest.
“Enumclaw is a solid team because they didn’t just have one guy that we had to contend with, they had several,” admitted Bright. “In the end it was the fact that they played great defense and did the little things extremely well that made the difference and shifted the game’s momentum at just the right time.”
Enumclaw couldn’t have plucked a worse draw from the hopper as their initial opponent, in that the Hornets do not match up well with Meadowdale.
Fortunately for Enumclaw, the Mavericks had icicles dangling from their digits in the first half of that encounter, as Meadowdale shot a chilly 11 percent from the floor, hitting 3-of-27 shots, and had fallen behind 29-14 by intermission.
Again it was a matter of holding off a late 29-20 run by the Mavericks in the second half that saved the day for EHS as Meadowdale started the third period by reeling off 10 unanswered points before Enumclaw realized what was happening.