Eagles win when they need to

The Federal Way boys basketball team won its fifth loser-out game of the season Saturday to qualify for the state tournament. The Eagles play Stanwood at 10:30 a.m. today at the Tacoma Dome in the opening round.

Federal Way beat Kentwood 59-55 in a winner-to-state contest Saturday at the University of Puget Sound.

“If only state were single elimination,” said Federal Way senior Brad Mahlstedt, joking about his team’s ability to win when it has to.

“It’s gotta be a record somewhere,” said Federal Way coach Jerome Collins about his team’s five wins in loser-out games. “I take my hat off to them. With their backs against the wall, they performed. I’m very proud of them. Kentwood is a quality team, we just came out and played hard. The kids did a great job.

“We were disappointed with the loss to South Kitsap (that would have given the Eagles a playoff berth). We made a vow not to let that happen again. I liked their focus today. They wanted to go to state, and who wants it most will prevail. We have tremendous pride and tradition here at Federal Way, and they played for the program.”

It’s the first time Federal Way has made the state tournament since current NBA player Michael Dickerson was a star for Federal Way in 1994.

After finishing third in state that year, Federal Way missed making the big show on three opportunities in recent years. In 1997, the Eagles lost on a four-point play in the final seconds against Lincoln, costing them a state berth. A year after that, Federal Way came back to tie Gig Harbor in the final seconds of a district game, but lost in overtime. Last year, Federal Way had to win one of their final two district playoff games, but didn’t.

“This time we got the job done,” Collins said.

Collins said the 1994 state team and this year’s club play with different styles to reach the same destination.

“Dickerson’s team was a talented team with a lot of skill. This team did it by work ethic,” Collins said. “These kids work so hard. They overcame adversity, discipline issues, losing a couple players, regrouping and changing stuff. They have will and determination. They said they’d get it done and we held them accountable. I’m very proud of them.”

Prior to the season, Federal Way was picked by the South Puget Sound League South Division coaches to finish as low as seventh in the nine-team league.

“It’s been a goal since the beginning of the year,” Mahlstedt said. “No one had expectations of us. When we lost to Puyallup and Bethel, no one believed in us. We had more fans on the bench than in the stands. We lost on senior night, then barely made the playoffs. I’d lose a million senior nights to go to state. That shows the will of our team. It shows the heart of our team.

“We’ve had a few very loyal fans all season, but now the whole school is really starting to get into it.”

“It’s so exciting,” said junior guard Andre Piper-Jordan. “I was in the same situation last year (while attending Class 3A Interlake) and lost both (state games) and had to go home. That thought was in my head the whole time. This team, we stepped it up more. We didn’t want the ride to stop here.”

Federal Way players also remembers last year.

“We came close last year, but it feels great to make it,” said senior guard Teddy Williams. “We want to make something out of it. We feel we can play with anyone. We play our best when our backs are against the wall. We should be good.”

Scouting report on Stanwood

Stanwood loves to run and gun, having scored more than 90 points in five games this season, including a 108-point outing.

Stanwood is led by 6-foot-6 senior Marcus Steele, who averages 22 points and 10 rebounds per game. Steele can hit every shot in the book out to 15 feet.

Joining Steele is 6-foot-3 junior Ryan Appleby, a cocky, flashy point guard who Federal Way fans will hate by the end of the game. The red-shoe-wearing guard averages 17.5 points and 10 assists a game.

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