LYNNWOOD - Confronted with the task of defending a 6-foot, 10-inch post player, Mount Baker's boys basketball team showed size means little.
The Mountaineers defeated Cascade Christian 59-55 in the Class 1A Tri-District Tournament on Saturday, Feb. 16, at Lynnwood High School. With the win, Mount Baker advanced into the regional round of the Class 1A State Tournament.
"We're just excited for the opportunity to keep playing basketball," Mount Baker coach Rob Gray said. "Now we move on to the next step, which is to get to Yakima. But we have to love this experience."
Junior guard Rueben Murashov led the Mountaineers with 16 points while going a perfect 8 for 8 from the free throw line. Junior forward Andrew Zender, who was tasked with defending Cascade Christian's 6-foot 10-inch post Shawn Spencer, finished with 13 points, just one point shy of his career best.
Ironically, though, Zender's offensive production wasn't something Gray was counting on heading into this lose-or-go-home playoff game.
"He's a competitor; all he cares about is winning," Gray said. "We didn't expect him to score, honestly. ... What do I know? He scored."
Zender, who ceded at least six inches to the center, and the rest of the Mountaineers' posts sometimes triple-teamed Spencer just to deny him the ball. Spencer still finished with a game-high 25 points on a perfect 10 of 10 from the field, but Mount Baker's defense routinely forced turnovers when the Cougars tried to force the ball down to Spencer.
"He's really tall, but what kind of freaked me out was that he kept hooking us," Zender said. "He's really slow, so we had to get around him. If we got around him and in front of him we were fine, but then they would throw it over us and we would have to rely on the other (post defenders)."
Despite the noticeable size disadvantage in the low post, the Mountaineers were able to keep a slight advantage for most of the game.
Mount Baker's defense held Cascade Christian to just 5 of 13 shooting in the first quarter while forcing six turnovers, giving them the slight 13-10 advantage heading into the second period.
A 3-pointer by Zender off a Dalton Munsell assist gave Mount Baker its largest lead of the game to that point, 18-12, but the Cougars clawed their way back into the game behind a 3-point play by Spencer, closing the gap to 32-31 Mount Baker entering the half.
Cascade Christian opened up the third quarter with back to back field goals, putting Mount Baker behind for the first time in the contest. The Mountaineers, down 35-32, answered with a 15-9 to close out the third quarter behind six points by Zender and seven points by Murashov.
All of Zender's third quarter points came down in the low post against the taller Spencer.
"I was trying to get underneath him and draw fouls to shoot free throws," Zender said.
Drawing fouls on Spencer eventually paid off, with Spencer fouling out with 4:58 remaining in the fourth quarter. He fouled out fighting for a rebound against Zender.
Zender, though, said he didn't even realize he had fouled out, although the rest of the gym did with Mount Baker's fans erupting and Cascade Christians players sinking their heads in disbelief.
Mount Baker staved off defeat again after timely free throws by Harrison Whitmyre with 38.8 seconds remaining, sealing Mount Baker's place in the state tournament.
MOUNT BAKER 59, CASCADE CHRISTIAN 55
Mount Bake 13 19 15 12 - 59
Cascade Christian 10 21 13 11 - 55
MB: Reuben Murashov 16, Zan Roman 7, Isaac Gilmore 0, Ty Munsell 3, Seth Bass 0, Harrison Whitmyre 3, Conner Brandland 0, Jacob Oiness 7, Dalton Munsell 10, Andrew Zender 13. Team totals: 21-51 12-19 59.
CC: AJ Howells 15, Jacob Kushan 9, Shawn Spencer 25, Collin Tracy 0, Jaelin Goldsmith 0, Riley Ramos 2, Colton Rayburn 0, Jordan Tveter 2, Andrew Tigges 0, Sam Hoffman 2. Team totals: 21-48 12-17 55.
3-ptg: MB 5 (Murashov 2), CC 1 (Kushan 1). Rebounds: MB 22 (Zender 6), CC 21 (Spencer 8). Assists: MB 6 (Murashov 2), CC 9 (Spencer 4). Fouls: MB 23(Murashov), CC 21 (Spencer, Tveter). Turnovers: MB 11, CC 16.