TACOMA — In the moments following Wednesday’s opening round of the Hardwood Classic, it was easy to forget the final score and simply focus on the way in which Cinderella arrived at the ball.
The Enumclaw High boys basketball team dealt Inglemoor a 54-43 loss on Wednesday at the Tacoma Dome. The game marked Inglemoor’s first appearance at the Class 4A basketball tournament since 2009, and the loss cut short a run the blue-collar underdogs from Kenmore.
“Obviously it’s a disappointment that we didn’t go out and win,” senior guard Ryan Hamilton said, “but the fact that we were the 34th RPI team in 4A and we made the top 12 is pretty big.”
Enumclaw, the nine seed, moves on to face second-seeded Gonzaga Prep on Thursday at 2 p.m. in the quarterfinals.
Inglemoor came into the tournament as the lowest-ranked team in the division. The Vikings had no first-team players on the all-conference lists, and only one player on the second team — no stars, just ash, yellow ribbon and a handful of friendly mice.
“About middle of the year, we talked about ‘You guys were playing your butts off defensively and working hard defensively — as hard as any group I’ve had,’” Inglemoor coach Greg Lowell said. “‘You practice hard, you’re unselfish. Stay after it, because the ball has just not being going in. You’re getting good looks.’”
Then came thrilling wins over Skyline, Bothell and Issaquah, the top three teams in the league at the time. Inglemoor finished the regular season with seven wins in the last 10 games.
Lowell, who wrapped up his 29th season as Inglemoor head coach, was named conference coach of the year and credited with turning the Vikings from a postseason hopeful to state tournament contention.
Flashback to last season at this point, and Inglemoor basketball had already cleaned out the lockers. The Vikings went 3-13 in conference play, and failed to make headway in the conference tournament.
Inglemoor returned with a group of experience seniors, especially defensively, but the Vikings struggled on offense. Without a true post player, the Vikings were tasked with defending and rebounding against much taller opponents and Inglemoor struggled on the boards. But as the season wore on, smart team defense began to make an impact.
At the core of Lowell’s offensive philosophy is unselfish passing. Midway through the conference slate, as confidence rose, the Vikings perfected the art. Stitch by stitch.
And as the pieces were sewn into place, Inglemoor became a threat. With a win over Bothell in the regional round on Feb. 25, Inglemoor was no longer a threat — it was a contender.
Inglemoor struggled from the field in the first half against Enumclaw, and through the Vikings clawed within 39-36 late in the third quarter, Enumclaw hit shots down the stretch to pull away. Enumclaw had the upper hand in the post, and Inglemoor lacked state tournament experience.
Whatever the reason, the clock finally struck midnight, signaling the end for seniors Jack Weyer, Chinedu Ugokwoli, Stephen Vaught, Jaxon Peay, Jalen Woodley and Hamilton.
Under Lowell, Inglemoor has made the state tournament five times. The Vikings finished fifth in 2005, seventh in 2006 and eighth in 2009, but the 2017 run is something special for Lowell.
“To do what they just did, to go from fourth in the league, to second to get their spot to beat the team that won the league to get to the regional and play in the state tournament — I told them, in 32 years of coaching, they’re one of my favorite teams if not my favorite, just because of how far they came to do what they did,” Lowell said.
“The biggest thing that’s hard is not to be around them playing tomorrow,” he said. “As good as they were as players, they were better kids. They’re kind of a throwback group. The team was incredibly important to them; in teamwork, in how they worked, and there were a lot of tears in there because they sacrificed a lot.”
Lowell declined to shed light on his plans for next winter, which would be his 30th season. Lowell is already the longest-tenured coach in the league ahead of Bothell’s Ron Bollinger.
“I take it one day at a time,” he said. “Right now, I’m just digesting this season right here, first.”
Notes: Lowell said shooting in a large arena adversely affected Inglemoor’s percentage… Freshman Zach Shimek was a ball boy when the Vikings made the state tournament in 2009… The Inglemoor students had brought a ‘lucky rock’ to conference tournament games and the regional win over Bothell, sparking a #FearTheRock buzz on Twitter. The rock made an appearance midway through the fourth quarter, but Inglemoor was already down by double digits.