YAKIMA – What can you say?
In less than 19 hours, the Freeman Scotties’ dream of challenging for the State 1A boys basketball championship went from real to surreal.
Napavine’s Tyson Sturza muscled his way through two defenders to launch a desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer Friday to lift the Tigers past Freeman 44-43, sending the second-ranked Scotties home without a sixth consecutive state trophy.
The loss to the third-ranked Tigers came on the heels of Thursday night’s loss to 10th-ranked White Swan, which surfed an ever-growing wave of emotion to score a 58-40 upset of the Scotties in the quarterfinal round.
To make matters worse, freshman DeAngelo Casto, the 6-foot-5 post who has played a key role off the Freeman bench, came down with the flu after the team’s walkthrough Friday at Yakima Valley College and did not dress.
The Scotties turned to their football players against Napavine – veterans of Freeman’s trip to the state championship game at the Tacoma Dome in November. Bryan Riggs, Dan Sanders, Andrew Wilkerson and Kevin Hatch, all key starters on the gridiron, led the way physically and emotionally, giving Freeman a 43-41 advantage with 1.8 seconds left. But two crucial plays remained.
With four players grabbing the basketball – three Scotties and one Tigers player – Napavine’s Bill Stenerson managed to call a timeout instead of giving up a jump ball as times ticked away.
With less than 2 seconds left, Napavine had to inbound the ball from the sideline across from its bench. As soon as the referee signaled the ball ready for play, Sturza, a football linebacker, shrugged past one defender, lowered his shoulder to drive through a second, and broke into the clear in the corner. He dribbled twice, double-pumped and still managed to launch a game-winning shot before the final buzzer – a seemingly impossible feat.
It was a heartbreaking loss for Freeman, which fielded its best team in its run of seven straight tournament entries. The Scotties did not lose a game once their roster filled out with football players until the state tournament.
Riggs, a standout tight end, played an inspired game for Freeman before fouling out with 2:53 left. Sanders, who will play football at Whitworth College in the fall, muscled his way for the go-ahead shot with 18 seconds left.
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