This was a Tacoma high school basketball season to remember.
A few more breaks and it might have been the greatest Tacoma basketball season there’s ever been.
Tacoma sent 10 of its schools to championship sites this week for the state tournaments — either in the Tacoma Dome, Yakima SunDome or Spokane Arena. That’s the most since the WIAA changed the state tournament format after the 2010 season, and the six schools to earn state trophies were the most to do so, too.
Foss became the first Tacoma school since Lincoln in 2002 to bring the City of Destiny a state title, holding off Selah, 83-73, in Yakima for the 2A boys championship trophy.
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“We knew Tacoma had our back tonight,” Foss coach Mike Cocke’ said afterward. “I got a lot of texts from friends that coach in Tacoma, and they said, ‘Bring it home for us.’
“That made me feel good. Even though we’re all at different programs competing against each other, there were people out there that were all Falcons tonight.”
It was the first championship for Cocke’, who is a graduate of Stadium, and it came in Foss’ first season in the 2A classification after moving down from 3A based on enrollment.
And it capped a dominant season for Boise State-bound forward Roberto Gittens, who was The News Tribune’s All-Area player of the year. Gittens scored 22 points and had 12 rebounds in the title game.
“I’m just so happy for him,” Cocke’ said. “It shows a lot for him to come back (to Foss), to do this thing when everyone else told him he should transfer.
“He said, ‘No. I’m going to go be with my coach, and be with my family, and we’re going to win this thing.’ And we did it.”
For a while it felt that maybe some of Foss’ 253 counterparts could join it in the title games.
Entering state, Tacoma’s representatives included Bellarmine Prep’s boys and girls teams in 4A, Lincoln’s boys and girls and Wilson’s boys in 3A, the Foss boys in 2A, Life Christian boys in 2B, and Tacoma Baptist’s boys and girls and Evergreen Lutheran’s girls in 1B.
Bellarmine Prep’s girls made the 4A semifinals. Lincoln boys and Lincoln girls reached the 3A semifinals, and Life Christian boys cruised into the 2B semis.
Lincoln’s boys team was enjoying its best season in school history at 26-0. But it ran into one of the best teams in state history — coached by former NBA All-Star Brandon Roy — and one of the most talented players the state has seen in University of Washington signee Michael Porter Jr.
The win by Nathan Hale was revenge 15 years in the making for Roy. He played at Garfield when his state-title hopes were dashed after a 4A state quarterfinal loss to Lincoln in 2002. That came after he lost in the first round to Foss in 2001, when Lincoln had now-coach Aubrey Shelton and won the first of back-to-back state titles. Foss won the 4A title in 2000.
The Lincoln-Nathan Hale semifinal game had fans sitting in the upper deck of the Tacoma Dome to watch. But Roy said he remembers those old Tacoma vs. Seattle pairings as being even more packed than this one was.
“The seats were full,” Roy said. “Those crowds were packed. This was good, but ours were much better.”
The Lincoln boys’ defeat was one of a string of semifinal losses for Tacoma schools. Lincoln’s girls lost to top-ranked Bishop Blanchet in their first trip to the semis since 1980, and the top-ranked Life Christian boys were upset by Liberty of Spangle, 57-49, in the final ride for senior Luke Lovelady, who was playing for his father, Mark.
“It’s tough when you see your son in there crying with all of his buddies that he’s known since preschool and kindergarten, and they’re at my house all the time and here they are now,” Mark Lovelady said. “You put so much time and energy into something just to see it not come to a championship — that’s life.”
And Bellarmine Prep’s girls were in the semifinals for the first time in school history — riding high after stunning top-ranked Central Valley when University of Arizona commit Shalyse Smith made the go-ahead layup with 25 seconds to go, ending the Bears’ 52-game winning streak.
But then the Lions ran into Kentridge.
The Kent schools might not have had the depth that the Tacoma schools did, but represented the South Sound with two state titles.
Kentridge followed on its win over Bellarmine by rolling past Glacier Peak in the title game. Its sophomore and freshman frontcourt combo of JaQuaya Miller and Jordyn Jenkins both had a double-double to bring the Chargers their first state title.
And the Kentwood boys weren’t leaving the Tacoma Dome without a gold ball. Not after coming up just short against Federal Way 365 days earlier.
The Conquerors trailed at halftime, but held Union to seven points in the third quarter while rolling to an 81-61 win and ensuring that an SPSL or NPSL school took home the 4A state title for the sixth time since 2009.
And just like Kentridge and Foss, Kentwood didn’t earn a bye to the state quarterfinals — so the three state champions from the South Sound had to win four games in four days.
It was the Conquerors’ third state title — though this one included 30-year-old Blake Solomon as their coach, not as their starting 3-point specialist, and the team didn’t have Rodney Stuckey (2004) or Josh Smith (2010).
This one just included an all-senior starting five that was bent on finally cutting those nets.
And that made this crown sweeter for Solomon than winning one when he was a player.
“I’m so much more proud of them,” Solomon said. “When you accomplish something yourself as a player it’s a little different. But to be the guidance over 12 guys who have meant so much to you makes it that much sweeter for me.”
And Foss’ win was extra special for Cocke’. He knelt onto the SunDome court afterward and said he thought of his wife, Shannon, who died of cancer in 2014. He said he has kept coaching because of her, because she told him to.
“I know she was with us tonight, I knew she was with me through the tournament,” Cocke’ said. “This is for her.”
Lauren Smith and Andy Buhler contributed to this report
All-State Tournament teams
MVP: Cameron Cranston, Union
Beau Roggenbach, Kentwood
Riley Sorn, Richland
John Moore, Curtis
Anton Watson, Gonzaga Prep
Rayvaughn Bolton, Kentwood
Tyler Kurtz, Richland
Marcus Stephens, Federal Way
Emilio Mancol, Kennedy Catholic
Koby Huerta, Kentwood
MVP: JaQuaya Miller, Kentridge
Paisley Johnson, Glacier Peak
Shalyse Smith, Bellarmine Prep
Jordyn Jenkins, Kentridge
Lexie Hull, Central Valley
Morgan Gary, Kentridge
Jamie Loera, Moses Lake
Emilee Maldonado, Sunnyside
Sam Fatkin, Glacier Peak
Kayla Watkins, Glacier Peak
MVP: Michael Porter Jr, Nathan Hale
Jaylen Nowell, Garfield
Kevin Porter Jr., Rainier Beach
Nate Pryor, West Seattle
P.J. Fuller, Nathan Hale
Trevante Anderson, Lincoln
Emmitt Matthews Jr., Wilson
Yusuf Mohamed, West Seattle
A.J. Martinka, Stanwood
Collin Welp, Seattle Prep
Daejon Davis, Garfield
MVP: Anna Luce, Mercer Island
Jadyn Bush, Bishop Blanchet
Morticia McCall, Lincoln
Oumou Toure, Kamiakin
Kelsey Rogers, Lynnwood
Kailee Yan, Mercer Island
Kyra Beckman, Snohomish
Kaprice Boston, Lynnwood
Katie Brandvold, Snohomish
Jillese Bush, Bishop Blanchet