High School Sports

Fife grinds past Foss ... finally. Malachi Afework helps Trojans stun defending state champions

Clutch 3-pointers. Hard-nosed defense. A wardrobe malfunction?

The No. 10 Fife High School boys basketball team put together a highly entertaining performance that featured all that and more, defeating No. 2 Foss, 62-58, on Thursday night at Wilson High School to advance to the championship of the 2A West Central District boys basketball tournament.

Clinging to a one-point lead with 34.6 seconds left, Trojans point guard Malachi Afework dove for a steal, grabbed the loose ball and drew the foul before calmly sinking both free throws to give Fife a 61-58 lead.

Afework, who finished with a team-high 14 points and found teammates for easy buckets all night, shrugged off his performance.

“I was trying to get my jumper going, attack the hoop,” he said. “Play solid D, and take out their two guys, (Micah Pollard) and (Demetrius Crosby)”

Third time proved to be the charm for Fife, which had lost to Foss twice during the regular season – including a double-overtime thriller that could have gone either way.

Foss hadn’t lost to a 2A team since moving down from the 3A classification before the start of last year. That was a 39-game win streak over 2A teams, which includes Foss’ 2A state title victory a season ago.

“This feels awesome, especially since it's the playoffs,” Fife coach Mark Schelbert said. “This one matters a little bit more. “They're a great team, well coached, great kids. Anytime you beat a good team like that, it feels great.”

It wasn't easy. The trapping Foss zone defense, nicknamed Ice Age, kept Fife in the cooler for much of the first half.

Pollard was a monster, all long arms and quick hands on defense and an overpowering presence in the lane on offense. He finished with 12 points, got to the line repeatedly and showed a knack for cleaning the offensive glass, helping to stake the Falcons to a 29-28 lead going into halftime. At the start of the third, he added another early basket to help grow the advantage to 36-31. Then Afework took over.

Fueled by two quick steals from the sure-handed point guard, the Trojans went on a 9-1 run that featured two layups and two assists from Afework – including one dime into the corner for a big Bryson Williams 3-pointer that shifted the momentum firmly in the Fife direction.

“It just seemed like such an ebb and flow,” Schelbert said. “There's times we coulda shoulda woulda, didn't quite work out for us, but then we made plays when we had to. The kids really stepped up huge. Big team effort.”

Now, back to the wardrobe malfunction. Mere minutes into the first quarter, Schelbert sent Eli Graham to the scorer's table to check into the game. The officials waved Graham onto the court, then stopped him. As he headed back to the bench in confusion, he shrugged out of his jersey and slipped off a black undershirt. A whistle blew – a “disrobing” technical foul. Foss then shot and made a pair of free throws.

“I wore the wrong undershirt,” Graham explained between chuckles after the game. “I wore black, and I've worn it for the past three games. It's the playoffs, I guess they don't mess around. T'd me up right away.”

Graham made up for it with a couple of crucial baskets down the stretch, including a steal and go-ahead layup with the score tied at 51.

“We really just tried to focus on the little things,” Graham said. “Coach has really been preaching about the little things and how much they matter and how important they are. We stayed in ourselves and focused on us and it turned out pretty good.”

Fife advances to face North Kitsap in the district championship game at 2 p.m. Saturday at Wilson.

Foss, meanwhile, plays Renton in what amounts to an RPI seeding game at 3:45 p.m. Saturday at Washington. Both teams are guaranteed spots in the state tournament.

Foss beat Fife 99-91 in two overtimes in their first meeting and then 66-48 on Jan. 16.

“It's tough to beat the same team three times,” Foss coach Mike Cocke’ said. “You beat a team pretty handily the second time around, and 17- and 16-year-olds think well, maybe it'll be just as easy again. The ball didn't move and we tried to make plays on our own instead of playing together.

“Credit (Fife) for playing harder than we did tonight, and we'll be back.”