Cameron Cranston’s 3-pointer hit the back of the rim, bounced out and Jalen McDaniels secured the rebound.
Viont’e Daniels twice jumped as high as he could near halfcourt then fell to his hands and knees as the rest of his Federal Way teammates surrounded him, including Malik Montoya, who was lost just before the start of the season with a torn knee ligament.
The Eagles held on to edge Union, 61-58, on Friday at the Tacoma Dome to advance to face Davis of Yakima for the 4A state championship.
“We just have a will to win and God was on our side,” Daniels said.
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Federal Way built a 19-point lead in the first quarter. Daniels scored 20 of his game-high 27 points in the first half, hitting five 3-pointers. Union chipped away to tie it multiple times in the second half but never quite overcame that enormous hole Daniels dug for the Titans.
Almost, though. Union tied it at 55 with about 5 minutes remaining in the game. Daniels responded with a pair of baskets to keep Federal Way ahead.
Then point guard Marcus Stephens, a transfer from Curtis, drilled a step-back jumper with 4:36 to play to put the Eagles ahead 59-54.
Cranston responded with a 3-pointer, his fourth of the game, to cut the lead to two, and Riley Hawken, Union’s 6-foot-6 senior post who finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds, hit 1 of 2 free throws to cut the deficit to 59-58.
But on a crucial possession with 28.2 seconds to play, Union turned it over on a shot clock violation. Senior point guard Micah Paulson, who scored 18 points, was dribbling from the right wing when the buzzer sounded.
No shot was attempted. Nobody seemed to realized the clock was winding down. Not even the Titans bench.
“We just didn’t see it and unfortunately Micah didn’t either,” Union coach Blake Conley said. “Obviously that’s a big possession. … That turnover will go to me in the stats.”
Christian Jones and Daniels each missed free throws for Federal Way in a one-and-one opportunity to give Union the ball back. Paulsen’s step-back jumper from the right corner missed and Jones secured the rebound and, again, went to the line. This time with 7.1 seconds to play.
In the double bonus, he missed the first.
“It was short and I looked at Coach (Jerome Collins) and he said, ‘Knock it down,’ ” Jones said.
He did, putting Federal Way ahead, 61-58.
Paulsen took it up the court off the inbounds pass and handed off to Cranston, who was 4 of 6 from the 3-point line to that point. His shot was just off. And the Federal Way celebration began.
“It’s just a crazy … just a crazy feeling going to the state championship,” Jones said.
The last time the Eagles reached the title game, they won it all in 2009 after losing to Ferris in the title game the previous year. This will be Collins’ third title game in his 30-year career.
“I thought it really came down to the will to win, as I told them before the game,” Collins said. “And we needed to make some stops and I think that’s what we came up with at the end.”
But the way Federal Way started, it looked like it was on its way to another blowout win. The last time the Eagles had been in a game decided by fewer than 10 points was in a 73-65 win against Canyon Springs of Nevada in the VisitMesa.com Basketball Challenge in Mesa, Arizona, back on Dec. 31.
But Collins said that Arizona tournament prepared Federal Way for this game.
“I think that what we did in Arizona really set the foundation for this,” Collins said. “I always tell my kids, ‘We are not concentrating on the our score or how big of a lead we have. We are concentrating on what we are coached to do.’ ”
And now they face Davis, a team the Eagles beat 88-43 on Dec. 6, for the state title.
“This has been the goal since we started those practices at 4 a.m.,” Daniels said. “The fact that we are even here in the championship is just great. We are just going to take it quarter by quarter tomorrow and try to bring home a championship.”