By AARON MANAGHAN
FIFE — The tension simmered before the Klahowya and Fife basketball teams took the floor Saturday. By the end of the night, that tension was boiling over.
For the second-consecutive season, Klahowya saw its season end at the hands of the Fife Trojans.
“Again,” Eagle senior Brad Stockton said. “Man.”
And for the second-consecutive season, officiating was at the forefront.
Unlike last year however — the Eagles had a game-tying free throw negated by a lane violation call with just four seconds to play, securing a 70-69 Fife victory — officiating took center stage this go-round by drawing the ire of Klahowya’s fan base, enough so that the game included several fan ejections.
With the Eagles leading by as much as 11 in the third quarter, a slew of fouls, followed by technical fouls, put the Trojans right back into the game. That momentum then fueled a 28-point fourth quarter en route to a 75-63 Trojan win.
“We’ve played pretty good basketball, but we’re not really playing complete games,” Klahowya coach Scott McMinds said, pointing out the team needed more conditioning work. “I take a lot of responsibility for that. Then composure and things like that just killed us. We had a lot of breakdowns.”
Up by nine, 45-36, with with a shade under 4 minutes to play, Klahowya’s Darell Newman picked up a foul, sending Fife’s Kevin Cox to the line for three attempts. Cox sank them all, kicking off a 9-2 run to leave the score tied at 47-47 heading into the fourth.
Shortly after that foul, Newman picked up his fourth personal foul, making him one of four Eagles to earn at least four fouls. Klahowya’s Stockton, Gene Armendariz and Chris Zumdieck all fouled out in the fourth quarter.
But it was the untimely technical fouls (one assessed to Stockton, and one each to Andre Moore and Caleb Leavitt on the same play) that did the Eagles in.
After getting down by nine to start the final quarter, the Eagles pulled within three at 63-30 on a free throw from Tyler Gonzalez. The fouls kept rolling however, and after a Thomas Darneille lay-in, Fife’s Damien Fisher hit two more free throws to put the Trojans up seven. After Leavitt was whistled for a travel just seconds later with 56.2 ticks left on the clock, both Leavitt and Moore got hit with their technicals, sending Cox to the line, where he would ice two-of-three shots to put Fife up 69-60 and headed to the win.
And while the officials made several questionable calls against both teams, many of the calls down the stretch seemed to hurt the Eagles more than the Trojans. Still, McMinds said his team had plenty of opportunities unrelated to officiating that they didn’t cash in on.
“Even on the losing side, you want the kids to determine the outcome of the game,” McMinds said. “In high school basketball, you’re going to have refs who make good calls and bad calls, but you can never blame a game on officiating.”
Klahowya fans starting getting audibly upset in the third quarter, as the razzing escalated from the usual official cat calls. Several fans were ejected from the game, including one parent who went out onto the floor. At one point, Klahowya’s student section began pumping their fists while chanting, “Jer-ry! Jer-ry! Jer-ry!” in reference to the infamous Jerry Springer Show. Witnesses said several police officers were on hand breaking up fights after the game as well (no Klahowya players were involved).
McMinds said the scene was unlike anything he’d been a part of in the high school hoops realm, and not for the right reasons.
“We’ve had a lot of fans following us,” he said. “It’s great for the school, it’s great for the kids. But we as a crowd need to understand and have good sportsmanship.”
Before the spectacle, both squads were mired in another highly competitive game. Moore led all scorers with 23 points, but had perhaps his most exciting play when the 5-foot, 10-inch guard elevated high off the ground for a big block. A senior, Armendariz had one of his best games of the season, finishing with just five points but grabbing six rebounds, recording a steal and swatting six shots.
As a post player, Armendariz said the officiating was hard to grasp.
“They called some tick-tack fouls,” he said. “But they let a lot go too. It was kind of weird. They tightened it up at the last second.”
The loss adds another chapter into what is becoming a heated rivalry with Fife. Each of the past two seasons, Fife has eliminated Klahowya in both football and boys basketball. In baseball last spring, the Eagles turned the tables, beating out the Trojans.
“They have good athletes, a good coaching staff,” McMinds said. “It’s good to have that rivalry. Hopefully we can start winning. We’re 0-4 with Fife in the last two years (in football and basketball). I talked to Andre about that. He really wanted this one.”
For Klahowya’s seniors, the loss is a tough one to swallow after turning around a program that went 0-20 in the 2004-05 season. The team improved to 3-17 in 2005-06 before reaching .500 at 10-10 last year. This season, the Eagles finished 10-10 again but set a new team record for league wins (eight).
In fact, his player’s disappointment at the loss is an indicator as to how far the program has come.
“A couple years ago, we would have been happy just to be in a game like this,” McMinds said. “But moral victories don’t exist anymore in our program.”
Rather, it’s hard work that helped them make the push.
“We worked hard in the offseason,” Armendariz said. “We worked hard during the season. (Getting to state) is your dream as a kid. It stings a lot. But I think we all put in our best effort.”
McMinds agreed, saying his team’s efforts were as high as they’ve ever been, particularly that of the senior class.
“I told ‘em, I said, ‘I’m really proud of your efforts and contributions to our school, to our program,’” McMinds said. “And we challenged the underclassmen as this is something we have to continue to build on.”
The loss ended the careers of the Eagles’ seniors, a group that includes Leavitt, Zumdieck, Armendariz, Stockton and Cameron Twiss, who was unavailable for the game. But McMinds said the contributions of the team will be remembered much more by what they have achieved than by the loss at hand.
“We won more league games than we’ve ever won. That was big for us,” McMinds said. “We only had four non-league games and the two we lost were against (Central Kitsap) and North (Kitsap). That to me is something to be proud of.”
Stockton said he had no shame in the way he or his team ended their high school careers.
“We did really all we could do,” Stockton said. “We played our hearts out. It’s our last game, you know?”
Remembering his time as an Eagle is something he said he looks forward to, but that will be tough.
“The toughest part probably is remembering all the times we had,” Stockton said. “Playing ball, this is it. It’s kind of a weird feeling. I can’t believe it’s over. But I have no regrets at all.”
A lot of that attitude stems from the bonding the team underwent in becoming the Eagles’ most successful boys hoops team to date. Stockton said it feels great to know he’s part of the teams that helped turn Klahowya around.
“It feels outstanding,” he said. “It’s probably one of the best feelings I’ve ever felt. I’m glad I got to share it with my team.”
“It feels great,” he said. “The school’s 11 years old. It’s a baby. For us to be able to establish a tradition, set a precedent, it’s great.”
But he added this season’s underclassmen need to work hard to keep up the tradition.
“Each group that’s coming every year has got to keep it going,” Armendariz said. “We have to work hard and not take anything for granted. It feels good to pass the torch on to a good senior group next year and a good junior group too.”
With a group of returners centered around Moore, Newman, Gonzalez and sophomores like Brandon Neet and Andrew Holm, McMinds is optimistic the wheels will remain in motion at Klahowya. He was especially pleased with Moore’s development this year, as the junior guard averaged more than 19 points per game.
“He’s just a great athlete,” McMinds said. “He just amazes me with some of the stuff he does. All season, I kept waiting for him to have an off-night.”
And while the future looks bright for the Eagles, Armendariz said it’s still going to be tough to say goodbye.
“I came to this school in 10th grade,” he said. “Over the last few years we’ve all grown tight as buddies. We’re best friends. We’ve played together for a while. It’s tough to see it end.