Sumner High School basketball coach Jake Jackson breaks games down into what he calls “eight four-minute wars.”
During the first half of the season, despite playing their Class 4A SPSL opponents close, the Spartans struggled to win the final “war” in five league contests, dropping losses to Curtis, Olympia, Emerald Ridge, Rogers and Puyallup.
“With four minutes to go in the game — that eighth four-minute war — we just couldn’t close it out,” Jackson said. “Whether it was the mindset or the stamina. But, we’ve known as a staff, as a team, we’re very good. What matters is winning that eighth four-minute war.”
During their first three games since returning from a short holiday break, the Spartans (6-7) have figured out how to win that final war.
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In the past four days, Sumner has knocked off a pair of 4A SPSL title contenders — Puyallup and Curtis — and started to shake up the top half of the league standings.
Tuesday, the Spartans topped Puyallup (11-2) by double digits. Friday night in University Place, they handed four-time defending league champion Curtis (10-4) a rare loss at home.
“We’re just trusting each other and trusting the process,” said Sumner senior Cody Tanneberg, who scored a game-high 26 points against Curtis. “We knew we were a great team. We knew what we could do. We just didn’t have it all together.
“I think now that we have it all together, we trust each other, we’re moving the ball on offense and flying around on defense — getting stops, getting rebounds, pushing the ball. I think we’re playing our best, and I think we’re a hard team to stop when we’re doing that.”
Sumner’s zone consistently frustrated Curtis on offense, and despite holding several leads throughout the contest, the Vikings couldn’t pull away.
Jordan Parker, who scored a team-high 21 points and nailed five 3-pointers for Curtis, tied the game at 58-58 with a triple with 1:43 to play.
Sumner turned the ball over on its next possession, but Curtis came up short on the other end.
A miss by the Spartans with 7.5 seconds to go gave the Vikings the ball back, but Sumner’s A.J. Andino — who added 10 points — intercepted an errant pass, and was fouled with 3.5 seconds left.
Andino sunk both free throws to give the Spartans their final lead. Parker got a decent look at a corner 3-pointer, but it rimmed out as time expired.
“It’s just believing,” Jackson said. “We know we have the variables to play well.”
Sumner also did enough to contain Curtis’ top shooters in Parker and Seattle Pacific signee Zack Paulsen.
Both Parker and Paulsen sat out the entire second quarter with two fouls apiece. Paulsen still pieced together an impressive outing, scoring 15 points — all in the second half — and adding four assists and two blocks.
But, it wasn’t quite enough to completely break down Sumner’s defense late.
“I think our defense has really gotten a lot better,” Tanneberg said. “It’s really tough, and I think as long as we’re flying around, and we’re closing out defensive possessions with a rebound, I think we’re a really good defensive team.
“I think that was our biggest strength tonight — we only allowed them 58 points — especially with Paulsen and Parker, as great of players as they are.”
With consecutive wins, Sumner remains very much in the mix for one of the six allocations the 4A SPSL gets to the 4A West Central/Southwest bidistrict tournament in February.
Curtis, meanwhile, could see its chances at a fifth consecutive league title slip away after falling three games behind league-leading Olympia (10-3), which has won its first nine 4A SPSL contests.
“We have a great league,” Tanneberg said. “Every night teams are beating each other. There’s not one team who is consistently blowing everybody out. Every team is having close games, so I think that gives us a great opportunity to keep rising up the standings, and show how great of a team we really are.”
S – A.J. Andino 10, Cody Tanneberg 26, Mason Donovan 6, Jake Curnow 2, Josh Lear 8, Carson Bohl 8.
C – Bryce Parker 2, Zack Paulsen 15, Dylan Yager 2, Jared Franklin 5, Jordan Parker 21, Solomon McGinnis 13.