By Eric D. Williams
Clear out a spot in the trophy case – the Curtis High boys basketball team is bringing home a state title.
A sizeable crowd made the trek from University Place to watch their high school outlast previously undefeated Jackson 60-56 in the Class 4A state title game at the Tacoma Dome late Saturday evening.
With a win, Tim Kelly became the first coach to win large-school classification state titles at two different schools.
Kelly won back-to-back state titles at Lincoln in 2001 and 2002. His Vikings finished as runner-ups to state champion Gonzaga in 2011.
“Unbelievable,” Kelly said. “This is awesome. I’m so happy for our guys. They kept doing what we asked them to do all year. We don’t lose our composure. We are a team.”
The Vikings won their second boys basketball state title in school history. A couple former players who helped earn the school’s first state title in 1971 were on hand, including longtime high school basketball coach in Thurston County and UPS grad Mark Wells.
Also, Curtis head football coach Clay Angle was a sophomore on that team.
It wasn’t easy. The Vikings led by as many as 13 in the second half, but Jackson methodically cut into the deficit, and trailed by just a point, 46-45 with 3:06 left.
No matter. Curtis pounded the ball into Isom Brown and Andre Lewis for back-to-back buckets to push the lead back to five, 50-45.
But Jackson walked down the Vikings again, with Dan Kinga draining a long jumper beyond the arc, cutting the Curtis lead to 54-53 with 45 seconds left. Isom was fouled on the ensuing possession and made two huge free throws for Curtis, giving the Vikings a 56-53 cushion with 37.8 seconds remaining.
Jackson had one last chance to tie it with eight seconds left, but Jason Todd lost the ball trying to clear space for a final shot, and Jaurence Chisolm wound up with the loose ball.
“This is a tough one to swallow,” Todd said afterward.
The Curtis big man was fouled on the play, and made one of two free throws to seal the win.
As he did all week, cat-quick point guard Dom Robinson led the Vikings offensively, finishing with 20 points and four steals. Isom chipped in 16.
“Words can’t explain it,” Robinson said, when asked how he felt about winning a state title.
Kingma led Jackson with 18 points.
Curtis jumped out to an early 11-4 lead on nine straight points by Robinson, including a 3-pointer from the wing, two jumpers from the foul line and a floater down the middle of the lane on a breakaway.
Jackson (26-1) struggled with the Vikings’ trademark pressure defense early on, as Curtis (27-2) forced seven Timber Wolves’ turnovers in the opening quarter. However, Jackson managed to cut the Vikings’ lead to 13-11 at the end of the first behind Brian Zehr’s nine points.
But Jackson lost Zehr early in the second quarter, and the Vikings promptly went on an 8-0 run, opening up a 10-point lead midway through the second. Zehr came back in and picked up his third foul with 1:40 left in the half.
Curtis took a comfortable 31-19 lead into halftime.
Jackson went on a 6-0 run to close lead to 32-25 early in the third, but Zehr was called for fourth foul with 5:19 left in the third. Jackson head coach Steve Johnson left him in the game.
The Vikings cranked up the defense again, pushing the lead to 38-25 with 3:19 left in the third quarter, punctuated by an around-the-back drop off pass by Dominique Jordan to a trailing Jayson Williams for an easy lay-in.
Making matters worse for Jackson, the team’s best player Jason Todd suffered a left ankle injury midway through the third quarter and had to leave the game. Trainers ret-taped his ankle, and Todd returned later in the quarter. Jackson managed to cut the Vikings’ lead to 42-33 at the end of the third quarter on a long 3-pointer by Dan Kingma.