The Steilacoom High School boys basketball team already has more wins through 11 games (six) than all of last season (four).
The Sentinels’ home game Tuesday against White River, a team of more recent success, served as a measuring stick — can Steilacoom make a postseason run or is this simply a solid start?
Though the 10th-ranked Hornets exited with a 50-44 victory, Steilacoom held a lead in every quarter except the fourth, forced 22 turnovers and had coach Gary Wusterbarth optimistic about his team’s future.
“It’s games like this where you find your weaknesses and that’s a very important thing for us to find out,” Wusterbarth said. “I was very pleased with our effort and I talked about it in the locker room — we just go up from here. This was a real positive game for us.”
With the victory, White River (7-3, 4-1 2A SPSL) took over sole possession of second place in the league standings behind River Ridge.
The Hornets have reached at least the regional round of the Class 2A state tournament the past four seasons — but not without knowing how to overcome a little adversity.
Alex Wallen, who scored a game-high 13 points, scored the first two points of the fourth quarter for White River to tie the game at 41-all and Cameron Cawley followed shortly after with a steal and layup at the other end.
That was the Hornets’ first lead since Steilacoom (6-5, 3-2) erased a 39-31 deficit with a 10-0 run to end the third quarter thanks to eight White River turnovers on 12 possessions.
The Hornets had 20 turnovers through three quarters.
"I was worried," White River coach Rick Tripp said with a laugh. "We’ve always struggled here."
"It’s early in the season and we haven’t seen much zone," said White River’s Tyler Meadows, who scored nine points. "This was good practice for us."
Steilacoom was outscored 11-3 in the final period — with the Sentinels’ only points coming on a step-back 3-pointer from 6-foot-2 post Robbion Harris. Steilacoom missed its final four shots of the game as well as two free throws late.
The Hornets adjusted defensively, switching to a zone themselves, and took care of the ball on the other end.
“And we actually played a little bit,” Tripp said. “We just had to settle down. That’s the most turnovers we’ve had all year and that’s pretty uncharacteristic. We just did that to ourselves. They’re pretty athletic, give them credit for that, but we just burped it up at times.”
Steilacoom was the first team to come out in a zone defense against White River all season. And it’s full-court pressure caused plenty of problems.
“We had been working on that,” said Wusterbarth, who has more than 500 career victories in his 31 years with the Sentinels. “Using our athletic ability is very important. We like to move around and trap and do some things to be active.
“We played most of these kids as sophomores last year (when Steilacoom finished seventh out of eight teams in the 2A SPSL standings) and they’ve learned a lot and they matured for a year.”
Steilacoom took a 29-27 lead into halftime when Bernard Smith shook his defender with a yo-yo-like crossover and found Harris for the layup. LaJon Enis-Carter led Steilacoom with 11 points and Jalen Thomas scored 10.
Wallen’s 13 points for White River was supported by Ryan Larsen’s 12 points, while Cawley and Meadows scored nine apiece.
“We’re just a bunch of hustlers,” Meadows said. “We are always ready to get the 50-50 balls and we’re all together. We’re just one big family.”
No. 10 WHITE RIVER
WR: Marmon 5, Larsen 12, Cawley 9, Meadows 9, Wallen 13, Flanigan 2
S: McCray-Jackson 6, Jalen Thomas 10, M. Hampton 7, Enis-Carter 11, Wilson 2, Harris 5, Smith 3