High School Sports

Top-ranked Rainier Beach boys to face No. 2 Bellevue in opening round at Tacoma Dome

The gasps coming out of Washington Interscholastic Activities Association headquarters Sunday afternoon came from dumbfounded high school basketball coaches.

From those not directly affected by the news of the day:

Top-ranked and defending Class 3A boys champion Rainier Beach (23-3) will play No. 2 Bellevue (23-3) in the opening round of the state tournament Thursday in the Tacoma Dome — a development that got a rise out of everybody at the WIAA state draw.

That marquee matchup also got the prime-time slot — 7:15 p.m.

Neither coach seemed thrilled by that draw. Bellevue coach Chris O’Connor curled his lip and quietly ducked out afterward. Rainier Beach Mike Bethea stuck around a little while longer, mainly to talk to media.

“Just no advantage of being a true No. 1 (seed),” Bethea said. “Bottom line, you’ve got to play the game.”

Bethea has hardly been one to get bent out of shape by controversial sideshows. It is a lesson he learned early in his coaching career from the all-time winningest coach in state history — retired Mercer Island coach Ed Pepple.

It came at the 1998 WIAA draw. The Vikings were placed in the same side of the draw at Mount Vernon, something that irked Bethea.

Sensing frustration, Pepple advised Bethea not to worry about how the brackets broke.

“He said, ‘You’ve got to play them all anyway, so line them up and let’s go. And if it’s meant to be, you’re going to win,’ ” Bethea said.

“That was a little lesson from Ed.”

Rainier Beach and Bellevue played for the Sea-King District title nearly a week ago — won by the Vikings, 70-56.

Other developments:

CLASS 4A

The Bellarmine Prep girls got a tough first-round opponent — third-ranked Inglemoor.

And the No. 1 Federal Way boys certainly got the challenging half of the bracket with No. 2 Union and No. 4 Issaquah.

“You’ve got to play them all at some point,” Bellarmine Prep coach Kevin Meines said. “(Our) 3:45 game time is not the optimum time, but once you get to this stage of the tournament, you are just not going to get an easy draw.”

The Federal Way boys open with Moses Lake. Eagles coach Jerome Collins said he knew nothing about the Chiefs.

“We have been tracking scores,” Collins said. “I tell our guys, we have to come prepared to play our brand of ball.”

If top-ranked Gonzaga Prep girls, the reigning 4A champions, and No. 2 Beamer win their quarterfinal games, those two schools would see each other in the semifinals Friday.

The Bullpups meet Bothell at 7:15 p.m. Thursday, followed by the Beamer-Walla Walla nightcap at 9.

“This whole season, we’ve talked about one game at a time,” Beamer coach Corey Alexander said. “We have to take care of business Thursday.”

CLASS 3A

At least coach Michelle Birge will have no shortage of inspiration to provide to her Wilson High girls this week.

They get the first crack at defending 3A champion Cleveland. The two teams tangle in the state quarterfinals at 9 a.m. Thursday.

“We understood who are matchups could be,” Birge said.

The Rams are 0-4 all-time against Cleveland under Birge. But this is a different Eagles team than in years past.

For starters, longtime coach Stephenie Wheeler-Smith left to become the director of basketball operations at the University of Oregon. Former University of Washington star Jamie Redd was hired to replace her.

Cleveland still has athletes all over the court, led by blazing point guard Jayde Christopher, who has signed with Kansas.

“They are still adjusting to a new coach, and obviously they’ve had players stepping into new roles,” Birge said. “But they’ve got two quality kids who have been there (in Christopher and Joyce Harrell). I fully expect they will come out and play hard.”

CLASS 2A

On Sunday, Fife boys coach Mark Schelbert celebrated the one-year anniversary of something he will never forget.

Last year at this time, he was stationed in a hospital with star point guard Austin Woods, who suffered a gruesome arm injury that required three surgeries in a regional-round loss to Anacortes.

But on Saturday, Woods tallied 29 points as the Trojans upended Southwest District champion Tumwater to earn their first state quarterfinal trip since 2010. They will play top-ranked Clarkston in a Thursday opener at the SunDome in Yakima.

“For him to be a main factor in the win to get us here, I could not be happier for him,” Schelbert said.

Since then, Woods has also battled knee and foot injuries.

“He has been dealing with a lot of emotional aspects of this whole thing, and internalizing a lot of things,” Schelbert said. “In the (Tumwater) game, he was able to let some of that go … in a positive way.”

On the girls side, the one school White River coach Chris Gibson kept saying out loud he did not want to face is the one that came up on the draw Sunday — top-ranked Mark Morris.

The No. 4 Hornets have been badly beaten by Mark Morris three times over the past two seasons — including an 80-60 loss in the 2A quarterfinals last season.

“Well, we’ll still start the bus, and we’ll have a parade downtown,” Gibson said. “The goal is to get a trophy over there, and that doesn’t change for us.”

CLASS 1A/2B

On paper, the Cascade Christian girls (1A in Yakima) and Life Christian boys (2B in Spokane) both have manageable first-round matchups.

Cascade Christian plays Zillah, while Life Christian meets up with Liberty of Spangle. Both games are at 12:15 p.m. Thursday.

Eagles coach Mark Lovelady said the one school he did not have film on was Liberty, but knew they featured a big lineup.

“I would rather play against a team with size … than one with a couple of guards who attack the rim,” Lovelady said. “It is a great matchup for us.”

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