Crusaders fall just short in 3A hoops finale
March 11, 2014
By Josh Liebeskind
Seattle Times staff reporter
Djuan Piper was confident he would score. He asked for the ball and Rainier Beach coach Mike Bethea gave it to him.
In return, Piper gave Rainier Beach its third straight state championship.
Piper’ 8-foot jumper with 5.1 seconds left broke a tie and gave the Vikings a 47-45 win over Metro League foe Eastside Catholic in a thrilling title contest. The win gives Rainier Beach a chance to play in a national tournament at Madison Square Garden in New York City in April, which determines a mythical national high school champion.
“I told Coach, ‘Give me the ball, I’m going to score,’” Piper said.
The senior had given Rainier Beach a 45-43 lead with a minute remaining when he powered his way to a layup. Mandrell Worthy responded 20 seconds later with a smooth pull-up jump shot to tie the game. Rainier Beach called a timeout to set up a play and Piper asked for another chance.
After dribbling the clock down, Piper caught the ball just below the left elbow, jab stepped and hit the jumper. Eastside Catholic never got an attempt to tie the game, as Shadeed Shabazz stripped Worthy at half court to end the game.
“This is probably the best feeling in the world because nobody ever did this three in a row in Washington state history, we went 30-0 and now we’re going on to New York for that tournament,” senior Naim Ladd said. “We’re trying to … put on for Washington.”
It is the first time a boys team has won three consecutive state titles and it was Rainier Beach’s eighth title overall.
The week leading up to the state tournament had the added pressure of a well-publicized ruling by the WIAA to allow the Vikings to participate in the tournament in New York, an invitation that was contingent on Rainier Beach winning its remaining games.
Public response to the decision was split and many were vocal about the feelings, including the Washington Interscholastic Basketball Coaches Association. It added to pressure that was a constant throughout the season.
“A lot of people were on us throughout the whole season,” Ladd said.
It was the fourth matchup between the league rivals this season. The Crusaders had previously taken the Vikings to the wire in the Metro title game leading in the final minutes before eventually falling by three.
Saturday’s game headed down the same path. The Crusaders were able to slow down Rainier Beach, a team that thrives in getting into transition and pushing the tempo, by packing in a tough zone defense. The Vikings settled for poor shots from the outside and finished 29.8 percent (17 for 57) from the field.
“Honestly, we did everything right,” Eastside Catholic’s Nathan Christie said. “A couple rebounds got away from us, but nine times out of 10 I bet you we win that game if we play like that.”
Shaqquan Aaron saved the stagnant Rainier Beach offense by scoring 16 of his 22 points in the second half. Aaron revealed after the game that he was playing on a sprained right ankle, which he injured in the first quarter of Friday’s semifinal win.
He wasn’t the only one battling an injury. Dejounte Murray sat most of the second half with an ankle injury that forced him from part of Friday’s contest. Ladd aggravated a sprained ankle late in the game, but he returned.
“It’s an ugly win,” said Vikings coach Mike Bethea, who won his seventh career state title, “but I think it’s the most beautiful win I’ve had yet.”