They found it with their defense.
Against visiting Glacier Peak on Thursday night, Mountlake Terrace opened the second half with a stretch of tough, in-your-face defense to pull away and post a 51-43 Western Conference 3A South boys basketball victory. It was the team's 12th win in a row and the 18th in 20 games this season.
The Hawks held Glacier Peak to just five points in the third quarter and four in almost five minutes of the final quarter to turn a one-point halftime lead into a pair of late 12-point margins. And although the Grizzlies closed strongly, outscoring Mountlake Terrace 9-5 down the stretch _ it would have been more, but they missed four free throws in the closing moments _ the deficit was just too much to overcome.
"The guys just clamped down," said Hawks coach Nalin Sood of his team's second-half defense. "We don't do a lot of things with smoke and mirrors, we just go out there and play tough man-to-man defense.
"It's a credit to the kids that they want to go out and play defense, they want to check hard, and if they get scored on they're going to do everything in their power to make sure it doesn't happen the next time. You have to have competitive kids that want to fight, that want to play defense. Because if you have those things, you have a chance every night."
After a back-and-forth first half, the game turned in a decisive 41/2-minute stretch of the late third quarter. The lead was still one point, 31-30, before Mountlake Terrace's Jesse Zerom dropped in a 3-point goal, teammate Blake Fernandez followed with a layin, and Marquis Armstead wrapped up the 8-0 run with another 3-pointer.
The Hawks then pushed their lead to 44-32 and then 46-34, the latter coming with just over four minutes to play. The Grizzlies battled to the end, drawing within 48-41 with 1:19 remaining, but would come no closer.
Yet as good as the Hawks were defensively, there were obvious flaws at the offensive end. Mountlake Terrace had three turnovers and had a shot blocked before scoring its first field goal, and the team's number of missed layins was almost in double digits.
"We'll go back and say, 'Guys, we've got things we have to work on.' I won't have to fabricate that we still have to improve," Sood said wryly.
Nonetheless, the victory capped an 18-2 regular season for Mountlake Terrace, and one that follows last year's 19-1 regular-season mark.
The two-year record of 37-3 in the regular season "is a credit to these kids," Sood said. "They've been a part of something special.
"They didn't come into the season assuming anything," he said. "There are teams that feel they're anointed for success, but these guys don't. At practice every single day, these guys work and work and work. It's a credit to them they've put together (outstanding) back-to-back seasons."
Glacier Peak coach Brian Hunter said his team "had good shots (in the second half), we just didn't finish. They were the shots we were looking for. But sometimes they go in and sometimes they don't."
Though disappointed with the loss, Hunter called the game "a good tune-up for districts. There'll be eight teams that are 0-0 (when the playoffs start), and the teams that'll succeed will be the ones that understand where they are and then play their best basketball in the district tournament.
"We've played in three straight district title games," he added, "so we've figured out how to get ourselves ready for the biggest games. And I don't expect that to change."
At Mountlake Terrace H.S.
Glacier Peak 16 9 5 13 -- 43
Mountlake Terrace 16 10 13 12 -- 51
Glacier Peak--Ty Kjellesvik 4, Dreu Vader 14, Austin Kiser 2, Ramsey Rosales 9, Zach Pederson 13, Mitchl Pohrman 1. Mountlake Terrace--Jesse Zerom 6, Blake Fernandez 13, Michael Lotz 2, Marquis Armstead 5, Greg Bowman 14, Loren Lacasse 11. 3-point goals--Dreu Vader 1, Ramsey Rosales 3, Zach Pederson 1, Jesse Zerom 2, Marquis Armstead 1, Greg Bowman 1. Records--Glacier Peak is 10-3 in league, 16-4 overall. Mountlake Terrace is 12-1, 18-2.
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