For some teams, a fifth-place finish at the state tournament is a monumental success, but it wasn’t what Lincoln High School had in mind.
On Thursday, the Abes had dreams of being an undefeated state champion after beating Seattle Prep to go 26-0 and advancing to the 3A state semifinals. Standing in the Abes way, though, was Nathan Hale, which was not only undefeated as well, but the No. 1 team in both the state and the country.
The Abes lost by 24 to the Raiders on Friday, but had a chance to bounce back for a 27-1 season on Saturday with a win over West Seattle in the third-place game. It looked as though they would do so, leading by as many as 15, but the Wildcats outscored them 20-3 in the fourth quarter to claim a 66-54 victory.
“(It was) an unbelievable season,” Lincoln head coach Aubrey Shelton said. “We started 26-0, which was the best start in school history. Nobody predicted it outside of ourselves — we didn’t predict 26-0, but we knew we could be good. I don’t think we were ranked in the top 10 to start the year. We’ve got guys that bought in and believed, had played together.
“It’s disappointing that we end up with two losses, but that doesn’t take away from how together these guys were all year or how hard they fought and what they accomplished, so we’re proud.”
The Wildcats, who lost a heartbreaker to Garfield in the semifinals when Jaylen Nowell’s buzzer-beater gave the Bulldogs a 44-43 win, still looked shocked from that loss in the first half. The Abes took advantage, jumping out to a 25-12 lead after the first quarter and leading by as many as 15.
“The first half, we were slow (and) we were tired,” West Seattle head coach Keffrey Fazio said. “They came out ready to go. We didn’t match the intensity and we paid for that.”
West Seattle came alive in the second half, cutting the deficit to 51-46 at the end of the third quarter. The Wildcats closed the game on a 14-2 run after the score was tied at 52.
“I wish I could put my finger on one thing (that changed), but it was a choice,” Fazio said. “Our kids were not going to come out here and just not compete. …The switch happened when we started rebounding the basketball. Nate (Pryor) started forcing the issue and really getting downhill. I think sometimes when he does that, teams go, ‘Wow, this is what it looks like when he’s getting going.’ I think it caught them off guard a little bit.”
Pryor finished with 20 points in his final game for the Wildcats.
“It’s amazing,” Pryor said. “Our goal was to get to state since my freshman year, senior year we did it. We didn’t go to the championship, but we got third place, so I’m very proud of that.”
For Fazio, coaching Pryor, who will continue his basketball career at Seattle University, has been something special.
“He’s just a warrior,” Fazio said. “It makes my job easy sometimes. It takes the pressure off other kids. Watching him go from West Seattle to the next phase of his career, I’m just so thankful that I got a chance to work with him, and that he trusted what I was doing was going to be the best for him and the team. If he doesn’t buy in, and the kids don’t buy in, then we’re not here. He’s amazing. The kid’s special. I wish I could say I made him that good, but the truth is he came to the table with a lot of that stuff in hand.”
Though the season ended in disappointing fashion for the Abes, their youth gives them a great shot to get back to the Tacoma Dome next year.
“On paper we look like we should be really good next year, but there is a lot of work to be done, we can make a lot of improvement,” Shelton said. “But those seniors, David Harris, John Macklin, Askia Amen, Cam Deloney, they gave everything for this team this year. They’re the main reason why this team is successful. The underclassmen, they had to learn how to be teammates, how to be positive and how to sacrifice from the seniors.”