Sehome boys’ basketball coach A.J. LaBree admits he couldn’t think about much else all day Wednesday, Feb. 18.
“I paced around house, tried to clean a little bit, but my heart wasn’t in it,” LaBree said. “I was just like, ‘Let’s get to the gym and get this thing going.’”
Who can blame LaBree and the Mariners for being anxious.
Just two days earlier, they had to watch Joe D’Amelio and Anacortes break their heart with a buzzer-beating shot in the district semifinals, putting their hopes of heading to the regional round of the Class 2A State Tournament on life support.
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But a win Wednesday against Northwest Conference foe Sedro-Woolley in a winner-to-state game of the 2A Northwest District Tournament, and all would be forgiven.
The game once again came down to some last-second heroics, but this time that hero wore a white jersey with a green No. 24 on the front and back.
Tanner Clark blocked a shot attempt by the Cubs’ Jackson Price with with about a half minute to play then went 4 for 4 from the free throw line at the other end of the court to secure a 56-53 win by the Mariners, sending them back to the regional round of the state tournament.
“We had a really tough loss against Anacortes,” Sehome senior Tanner Clark said. “It was tough to bounce back from that. You know, they (the Cubs) made a run. They didn’t make it easy. It’s never going to be easy. It’s a great feeling being back in state. Hopefully we’ll make a better run than we did last year.”
Before it can worry about the regional round, Sehome will face Squalicum at 6 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 20, at Mount Vernon High School in the third-place game of the district tournament to determine seeding.
But now, at least some of the pressure is off.
And Sedro-Woolley made sure there was no shortage of pressure on the Mariners (17-7) on Wednesday.
Despite having a starting lineup that was a cumulative of 19 inches shorter than the one Sehome trotted out for the opening tip and falling behind by 12 points entering the fourth quarter, the Cubs made a valiant run to dash Sehome’s hopes for the second time in three nights.
“You knew they weren’t going to fold,” LaBree said. “Even when we were up by 12, every possession we missed, I was like, ‘Oh no. Here comes Jackson (Price).’ Sure enough, they made some plays and their ball pressure started to bother us late. You could see where that game was going. I’m just glad that clock ran out when it did and our guys were able to leave the court with a win.”
Sehome won despite scoring only six points in the fourth quarter and hitting only 1 of 9 field-goal attempts in the period.
Sedro-Woolley, meanwhile, chipped away, cutting Sehome’s once lofty lead lower and lower with seemingly every possession.
But when the Cubs cut it to 52-51 on Will Enniss’ baseline runner with 4:20 to play, the Cubs seemed to hit a brick wall. Four straight possessions they came away empty.
It looked like Price, who scored a game-high 23 points, would end that when he started to drive the lane. But Clark had other ideas.
“He was driving a lot,” Clark said. “I knew he was going to put it up with his right hand, so I was playing on the outside. The guys had been helping me all night; I had great help. It was there. I tried to disrupt it somehow, and I’m just glad I did.”
So was his coach.
“Tanner — it’s kind of strange — he blocks a lot of shots, and he doesn’t foul out a whole lot,” LaBree said. “He’s got great timing. I don’t think a lot of players expect it from him. ... He’s got long arms, and he’s about 5-11, 6-foot, but he plays bigger than that. It really didn’t surprise me when he did it, but I was elated.”
He was even more elated to see Clark step to the foul line with 23.7 seconds remaining.
“When we were up one and Tanner went to the line, I’m sitting there in my head, ‘Just think back to all those years and all that work you put in. Just nice and easy buddy,’” LaBree said. “I was talking to myself. It was like he was just doing what I was imagining.”
Clark must have been listening, because he drained both and two more with 0.2 seconds to play after Price successfully hit a layup to again cut the lead to one.
“That’s something we’ve been practicing a lot,” Clark said. “It’s been tough down the stretch — I’ve missed some crucial ones. It’s just nice to be in that position as a senior to be able to send your team to state. It’s just a great feeling.”
Clark finished with 12 points and six rebounds, joining Leighton Kingma (16 points, eight rebounds) and Leif Anderson (15 points, five rebounds) in double figures.
Sehome 56, Sedro-Woolley 53
Sedro-Woolley: John Gaethle 0, Cade Isakson 0, Jackson Price 23, Will Enniss 11, Mason Elms 6, Anthony Cann 3, Chad Wilburg 10, Lars Stenseth 0. Totals: 19-58- 5-13 53
Sehome: Langston Engle 0, Logan Deboo 8, Elijah Andrushenko xx, Sam Carroll 2, Leif Anderson 15, Duncan James 0, Marcus Montag 3, Tanner Clark 12, Leighton Kingma 16. Totals: 20-47 12-16 56
3-point field goals — Sedro-Woolley: 10 (Price 5); Sehome: 4 (Deboo 2, Anderson 2). Rebounds — Sedro-Woolley: 27 (Wilburg 10); Sehome: 44 (Kingma 8). Assists — Sedro-Woolley: 5 (Price 2); Sehome: 4 (Deboo 2). Fouls — Sedro-Woolley: 15 (Price fouled out); Sehome: 17. Turnovers — Sedro-Woolley: 2; Sehome: 13.