As I made my way to my 2007 Chevy Cobalt following the Sumner Spartans’ convincing 63-48 victory against the Bremerton Knights last week at Lakes High School I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.
Since I arrived at the Herald in November 2007, I’ve covered hundreds of basketball games and a large contingent of contests I will always remember.
Last Wednesday’s game between the Spartans and Knights, a first-round Class 2A West Central District playoff game, will stick in my mind for awhile. On most occasions, the games that are decided on the final possession are the ones sportswriters remember the most, but this one will be stored in my memory bank for a different reason.
The Spartans, who looked like they would be physically outmatched by the Knights, just by an eyeball test, turned in a flawless performance with everything on the line in a loser-out game.
Sumner bolted to a 17-6 lead after the first eight minutes of play and simply wouldn’t be denied. Each time the Knights cut the deficit close to single digits, Sumner responded with a run of its own.
The team camaraderie was evident on the court as they made the extra pass on a multitude of possessions, and it resulted in layups or wide-open jump shots.
Sumner’s sticky man-to-man defense pressured Bremerton’s backcourt and slowed down stalwart post players Shaquille Jones (nine points) and Terrick Sims (six points).
Head coach Brett McDaniel said this is a true team in every sense of the word. Going into the season, the Spartans didn’t have a single varsity starter return. Nobody outside their locker room thought they would play at the district tournament.
The lack of experience hasn’t mattered, because the Spartans approach basketball with the mindset of one fist, one unit on the floor.
“It is, no question, the most cohesive team I have ever had,” McDaniel said. “Every single one of them accepts and plays their role. They don’t miss practice, and they work their tails off. Synergy has been a big word for us all year. You can see it on the floor right now.”
At halftime, Kent Newman, one of our freelance photographers, and I discussed how the Spartans are a well-oiled machine in every aspect of the game. They were on fire and clicking on all cylinders.
Sumner sharpshooter Riley Bruil, who scored a game-high 19 points, said they came into the season with a chip on their shoulders. One publication predicted the team would go 2-18 this year.
Sumner’s win against Bremerton gave the Spartans their 14th win.
“We thought, as a team, we needed and had something to prove,” Bruil said. “We have been working hard all season, and it’s paid off.”
It has paid off, indeed.