Eagles vault into first after upset of no. 1 Bethel


The Mirror

The Federal Way boys basketball team could have given up numerous times Tuesday night. Nobody would have blamed them.

The Eagles were playing the grizzled, No. 1-ranked Bethel Braves, who had won 11 straight games and the last two South Puget Sound League South Division championships.

On two separate occasions, the relatively young and inexperienced Eagles trailed by as many as eight points in the second half against a team whose top six players are all seniors, including three Division I signees.

Federal Way, who entered the game ranked No. 8 by, wasn’t supposed to win this one, which is why there was such an outpouring of emotion when the buzzer sounded Tuesday night on a 56-55 Federal Way win. The home crowd rushed the court after a Bethel 3-pointer bounced off the rim to end the game and the Eagles’ first win over the Braves since 2002.

“It was a barn-burner,” said senior captain C.J. Green, after being mobbed at halfcourt. “When it’s two top teams it makes it more fun.”

The Eagle win evened the season series between the two teams and moved both into a tie atop the SPSL South with identical 11-2 records. Bethel beat Federal Way, 58-48, Dec. 14 in Graham.

The final stretch of the game had both teams running over two minutes off the clock without scoring, before Bethel guard Jordan Sutton, the reigning SPSL South Player of the Year, was fouled driving to the basket with 18.7 seconds left. Sutton made 1-of-2 free throws, but Bethel got possession back after Federal Way knocked the ball out of bounds, setting up Mike Yusko’s last-second 3-point attempt for the Brave win.

“We just knew we had to beat them,” said senior guard Morris Anderson. “They are the No. 1 team. It boosted our confidence up a little bit.”

“We are a young team and we haven’t had a lot of these games,” said longtime Federal Way coach Jerome Collins. “The kids held on in the end and did what they were supposed to do to win.”

A big part of the second-half comeback was due to the slashing drives to the basket by junior wing Earnest “Pooh” Williams. After being ice cold the first 16 minutes, the Eagles’ leading scorer exploded for 16 of his 18 points in the second half, including 12 in the decisive fourth quarter. His running layup through the left side of the lane with 2:27 left gave Federal Way the lead for good 56-54.

“This feels great,” Williams said. “Coach was telling me to calm down (at halftime). We had to get them on their heels. They were bigger and slower and we just had to go by them.”

The bigger and slower Braves looked like they were going to run away from the Eagles in the first half. After Federal Way rolled to an 13-8 lead early in the second quarter, thanks to seven consecutive points from Anderson, Bethel’s enormous front line took over. Brandon Moore, Alex Tiefenthaler — both 6-foot-8 — and 6-3 Jamil Turner converted on seven straight lay-ups during a 15-0 Bethel run to give the Braves a commanding 23-13 advantage.

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