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BELLEVUE — It was a championship game with a back story. The stage was set for an epic showdown. The only problem, the game didn’t live up to the expectations.

Rainier Beach sprinted out to an early lead on Saturday at Bellevue College and didn’t look back, downing Eastside Catholic 78-38 in the Sea-King 3A District championship game.

The teams had met eight days earlier in the Metro League title game and the Crusaders almost handed the No. 1 Vikings (25-0) their first loss of the season. Thanks in part to a tying three-pointer in the final minutes by David Crisp, Rainier Beach was able to avoid the defeat and keep its national title aspirations alive.

Saturday’s rematch had the same atmosphere, as a packed crowd filled the Bellevue College gym, but the Crusaders were without a key piece, as leading scorer Mandrell Worthy did not suit up because of an ankle injury suffered on Thursday. Briefly, it appeared Eastside Catholic wouldn’t miss Worthy, as it jumped out to a 5-0 lead.

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Then Rainier Beach found a gear it had missing for a couple games, and things changed quickly.

“I told them, I said, ‘We ain’t playing with fire,’ ” Rainier Beach coach Mike Bethea said. “We’d see the zone, so we’re walking it up … that’s not the type of ball we play. We’ve been averaging 95 points a game because made or miss, we’re putting pressure on people offensively and defensively.”

The key during the run that broke the game open was reserve guard Shadeed Shabazz, who forced three straight turnovers with his on-ball defense, leading to six points for the Vikings.

“He’s full of energy,” Bethea said. “He has that … nose for the ball.”

David Crisp and Shaqquan Aaron both scored 17 points for the Vikings, who will face Mercer Island in the regional round Friday or Saturday at a site that will be determined on Sunday. Eastside Catholic will play Timberline next week.

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