One year of sharing the 3A South Puget Sound League title was more than enough for the Enumclaw High Hornets boys basketball team.
This time, the Hornets wanted it all to themselves.
After settling for a three-way tie with Auburn Mountainview and Lakes last season, Enumclaw clinched this year’s title — outright — with a 68-59 home victory over Peninsula on Friday night.
“(Last year) was rough,” said senior forward Bryce Peterson, who scored a team-high 24 points. “Every game (down the stretch) we were wondering, ‘Are we going to be the champs?’ ”
Enumclaw (15-3, 8-0 3A SPSL) left no doubt about who’s the best team in the league on Friday night, sweeping the season series from second-place Peninsula (14-3, 6-2).
“Peninsula is a great basketball team and they battle like crazy, but these guys just seem to have a will to win,” said third-year Enumclaw coach Kellen Hall, who graduated from the school in 2000. “We’ve won in triple overtime (this season); we’ve come back to win on a buzzer-beater. They just always find a way to do it. ... I just believe in them.”
Things could have gone either way after a first half that saw the Hornets trail 28-27 at halftime. But the longer and stronger front line of the Hornets helped open a 48-41 lead after three quarters. Early in the fourth quarter, Peterson scored inside on a floater, and Drake Rademacher knocked down a pair of free throws to push the lead to 54-41.
“We have great big men,” said Peterson, who also grabbed seven rebounds and had six steals. “Most high school teams don’t have the big men we do. We’re pretty solid down low.”
However, Oregon State recruit JaQuori McLaughlin didn’t let the Seahawks go quietly. The tall, quick sophomore guard led Peninsula back into the game, scoring 15 points in the second half, including five straight as Peninsula cut the deficit to 64-59 with 15 seconds left. But Enumclaw was solid from the free throw line in the fourth quarter, making 14 of 15. McLaughlin finished with 26 points, five rebounds and three steals.
“Both teams battled,” Peninsula coach Jake Jackson said. “The better team won tonight. Overall, I think (we’re) two of the best teams in 3A.”
Zac Webb scored 21 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, and the 6-foot-8 senior forward Rademacher added 15 points for Enumclaw, which doesn’t routinely start a player shorter than 6-3.
“Just in general, we haven’t really played a team with our length,” Hall said. “We’ve played teams that might have a guy or two, but our standard starting lineup is 6-3 and up. So we always have some option to exploit a matchup. That seems to be our strength, so we usually try to go to it.”
Nolan Winter added 17 points — hitting five 3-pointers — and Jimmie Ritchie had 11 points and 12 rebounds for Peninsula.