The Washington High School boys basketball team had it right in front of them. Beat visiting school-district rival Franklin Pierce and earn its first league title since 1989 — almost a decade before some of the Patriots players were born.
But shots weren’t falling. And though the Cardinals struggled with a similar problem, they made up for it by dominating the offensive glass, grabbing 17 offensive rebounds.
Brandon Cotton scored in crucial moments, leading Franklin Pierce with a game-high 20 points in a 45-40 victory Friday night to thwart the Patriots’ 2A South Puget Sound League title hopes.
“Washington is a good team, but we couldn’t let them win the league championship in our district,” Cotton said.
Washington’s last hope of winning its first league title in more than 25 years was at Orting High School. But those Cardinals lost to River Ridge, 83-32, which propelled the Hawks to the title in their first year in the league since leaving the 2A Evergreen Conference.
River Ridge (15-5, 11-3 2A SPSL) owns the tiebreaker over Washington (15-5, 11-3) because it beat the Patriots in both meetings this season.
“We blew our opportunity,” Washington coach Karl Cordes said. “I don’t know what else to say.”
Franklin Pierce (7-12, 7-7 2A SPSL) kept its own playoff hopes alive with the win. But didn’t get the help it needed from White River, which lost at Fife 66-50. A White River win would have left Fife and Franklin Pierce tied for the fifth and final league postseason seed and forced a Saturday tiebreaker game.
But the Cardinals’ season ends with some solace following a marquee win against top-seeded Washington.
“They finally decided to play together as a team and follow up what we do every day in practice,” said Franklin Pierce coach Deon Moyd. “They put it all together. They had it in them, they just had to focus. And they did that tonight.”
Franklin Pierce controlled the first half, going up 29-18 at halftime on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from sophomore Willie Patterson, who held his shooting hand in the air as he backpedalled to halfcourt for good measure. The Cardinals ended the half on a 6-0 run.
But Washington finally pulled itself together. The Patriots allowed four offensive rebounds on one possession in the first half, but collected their first bucket of the second half off an offensive board of their own from Jaomani Scott, which kick-started a 14-3 run to tie the game at 32.
Washington held Franklin Pierce to seven points in more than 12 minutes of play to start the second half. And Kaleb Whitemarsh hit a pair of free throws with 4:57 left in the fourth quarter to finally put the Patriots on top, 38-36.
Cotton changed that. He made a 3-pointer two possessions later to give the Cardinals the lead for good. Manuel Herrera followed with a banked jumper from the wing to beat the shot clock and a layup the next possession to put Franklin Pierce up by five.
It was certainly a foundation-laying game for the Cardinals, who also beat River Ridge this season.
“We just believed,” Cotton said. “That’s all we had to do, was believe we could beat these guys. We could win state, to be honest.”
“They are young, they just don’t know how to win yet,” Moyd said. “But with some young kids (including Cotton and Patterson) coming back, this sets the foundation for the future.”
Thayer Murphy and Kobe Key each scored 19 points and LaBrandon Price added 15 for River Ridge.
Foss (16-4; 12-2 3A Narrows) will play Lincoln (17-3; 12-2) at 7 p.m. Saturday at Stadium High School, hoping to win its first league title since the 2008-09 season.
The Falcons lost to the Abes, 64-56, on Jan. 2 and won 70-54 on Jan. 23.
Lincoln led by three at halftime and outscored the Thunderbirds 22-14 in the third quarter. Nick Dennis led Mount Tahoma (5-16, 5-9 3A Narrows) with 15 points.
The Spartans clinched the league title after running away early and holding on at the end. Jamie Lange led the Spartans (16-4, 12-2 3A SPSL) with 15 points and Jane Norris added 12.
“It was awesome,” said first-year coach Jordan Moog. “Our theme this year has been resiliency. It was great to get to the point where we feel like we are resilient. It was just really exciting today.”
Sumner lost Joy Mahnken, a starting guard, to a torn anterior cruciate ligament to begin the season. And the team had to learn a new system under Moog.
“This group is just so cohesive, no drama, really laid back,” Moog said. “They make it really easy to coach.”
Sumner ties Auburn Riverside (17-3, 12-2) atop the league but earns the top seed with wins in both meetings this season.
White River (18-2, 14-0 2A SPSL) has won eight of its past nine games. Its only losses this season came against W.F. West, 59-49, on Jan. 10 and Mark Morris, 78-47, on Jan. 10.
Fife (14-6, 9-5) took the league’s fourth seed but could have kept pace for the second seed with a win.