M-P wins district crown, Arlington 3rd; both play at state Saturday (slide show)

MILL CREEK – Marysville-Pilchuck won the district title, and Arlington placed third so both will be playing in the state regional qualifying round Saturday.

M-P will play Mount Spokane at 2 p.m. at North Creek High School in Bothell. Arlington will play Prairie of Vancouver at Battleground High School, also at 2 p.m. Winners advance to state in the Tacoma Dome next week. Losers are out. M-P is seeded 10th in the tournament, while Mount Spokane is 15th. Arlington is seeded 16th and Prairie ninth. Teams seeded in the top eight also play that day, but both winners and losers advance to state.

M-P will be facing a team that has four players who often score in double figures. J.T. Smith stood out in one of the playoff games scoring 30 points, putting down six 3-pointers. But he had other games this year when he was held to just a few buckets. When defenses focus on him, three other players have been able to step up: Tyson Degenhaut, Cole Hattenberg and Jerry Twenge.

M-P will counter with guards Josiah Gould and Luke Dobler, who, along with wing Aaron Kalab, are hard to stop off the dribble. But their standout player is 6-foot-5 Raequan Battle, who can score inside and outside, and can rebound and block shots.

Like M-P, Arlington’s opponent, Prairie, also has a 6-5 shooting guard in Braiden Broadbent. Their point guard, Kameron Osborn, has been hard to stop this year, along with forward Logan Reed.

The Eagles will counter one of the more balanced teams in the tournament. All five starters contribute regularly, but so do three players off the bench. Point guard Anthony Whitis is usually their leading scorer, but Jaren Cary, Griffen Gardoski, Ayodele Aribibola and Josh Gutierrez all can score in double figures.

To get to this point, Arlington had to come through the loser’s bracket after falling to M-P last week. On Friday night, Arlington’s defensive intensity was back. And so was Whitis. That spelled trouble for Edmonds-Woodway, a team the Eagles beat just 64-60 last month. The Eagles had probably their best half of the year in leading Edmonds-Woodway 42-11 in their district playoff game. The Eagles went on to win 62-28 to improve to 17-8, while E-W ended its season 13-10.

When Arlington lost to M-P, its intensity on defense was lacking. But against E-W, the taller Eagles dominated, blocking three clean shots in the first quarter alone. They were also monsters on the defensive boards, coming down with almost every miss. That got their running game going.

And Whitis was back in his groove after missing a game and nursing the injury against M-P. He led the Eagles in breaking the press and consistently drove down the lane for layups. And he was back to hitting some 3’s. Also fun to watch was how consistently the Eagles were able to score on back-door cuts and top-notch entry passes from the outside.

Despite inside scoring by juniors Aribibola and Gardoski, E-W actually took an early 9-7 lead midway through the first quarter. But then Arlington started 3/4- and full-court presses that completely unnerved E-W as the Warriors didn’t score until 2:44 left in the half. That’s about a nine-minute drought.

During that time, Aribibola and Whitis hit 3’s, and Gardoski made a back-door cut with an assist from Whitis to make it 16-9 after one period. On that same type of play, Cary scored with another assist from Whitis, then Cary did the same with a pass from Aribibola. Gardoski scored after grabbing an offensive rebound, then Whitis stole the ball and scored on a layup to make it 22-9.

But the run was far from over. Aribibola stole the ball and hit a lay-in, Whitis hit another 3 making it 33-11 when E-W scored its only basket of the second period. Cary followed up a miss with a bucket, and junior Guitierrez hit a 3. Add in some free throws, and it was 42-11 at the break.

As the outcome of the game was not in doubt, the second half slowed down quite a bit with the Eagles outscoring E-W 20-17.

Carey led the winners with 15, followed by Gardoski with 13, Whitis 12, Aribibola 7, Gutierrez 5, Cameron Smith and Campbell Hudson with 3 each and Michael Tsoukalas and Joseph Schmidt with 2 apiece.

In the game for third place the next day, Arlington beat Shorecrest 64-50. Whitis scored 23 points to lead the way. “We played incredible defense,” Eagles coach Nick Brown said. “Offensively, we moved the ball well. We played with confidence. We’ve been up and down, but that was the good team tonight.” Carey scored 12, Gardoski 11, Aribibola 7, Caden Smith 5, and Gutierrez, Hudson and Max Smith 2 apiece.

Also at Jackson Saturday, Marysville-Pilchuck advanced to state with a 65-60 win over Stanwood for the 3A Northwest District tournament championship. No statistical results were provided from that game.

Also, Tulalip Heritage is moving on in the state playoffs despite losing Saturday 68-50 to Cedar Park Christian, 23-1, of Mountlake Terrace for the fourth time this season.

Tulalip, 21-6, was led in scoring by Isaac Hadley-Comenote with 11. Samuel Fryberg and Josh Iukes had 8 each; Rodney Barber, Alonzo Jones-Smith and Paul Shay Jr. with 6 apiece; and Josh Miranda scored 5.

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