Statement made. Mostly.
In a battle of unbeatens, the Class 3A Auburn Trojans announced their presence for now and the future Saturday with a 55-53 boys basketball victory over host Class 4A Federal Way in the North Puget Sound League’s crossover championship game.
“We won. A team that’s undefeated on their home floor,” Auburn coach Ryan Hansen said. “I think that’s a statement in itself. Our kids wanted to come out and win by a lot. But at the end of the day, it goes in the win column.”
Auburn completed its season at 15-0. Federal Way ended at 11-1.
This final Trojans victory, coming a week after schools ended the 2020-21 year and graduations are done, finally brought the truncated COVID-19 high-school athletics year to a conclusion in King County.
From the start, it was apparent there would be no blowout.
Dace Pleasant scored the game’s first basket for Federal Way just 12 seconds into the contest. Kaden Hansen responded with his only three-pointer of the game for Auburn, which took the lead and held it for all but 10 seconds of the quarter.
But the Trojans never could get away. Auburn led 14-13 after one quarter behind a solid effort from its only senior, Amar Rivers, who scored six in the quarter.
Rivers added another six of his 14 total over the first half of the second quarter. His driving layup with 4:39 to go in the quarter gave Auburn a 20-17 lead.
It was all the points the Trojans would score until the 1:12 mark. Meanwhile, Vaughn Weems went to work for the Eagles.
Weems, who matched Rivers with a half-high 12 points, scored eight in the second quarter as Federal Way took a 29-23 lead to present Auburn with its first halftime deficit of the season.
“When we get into next season, with the postseason, we’re going to play a lot of good teams,” Hansen said. “If we are fortunate enough to get in the state tournament, this is what the games are going to look like. We’re going to have to learn to grind games out. So, we can always reflect back to this game next year.”
The Eagles outscored Auburn 16-9 over those eight minutes — the first quarter all season that the Trojans got outscored.
“We’ve always broken our games down,” Hansen said. “We came into this game, and we were 56-0 in quarters this year. We won every quarter until the second quarter.”
Federal Way built its advantage with one of Auburn’s best on the bench. Junior Tre Blassingame picked up two fouls in the first two minutes of the game and sat out the remaining 14 minutes of the first half.
He made an emphatic statement when the third quarter began, scoring 11 of his 15 second-half points as Auburn retook the lead 46-41 entering the fourth.
“I was very determined,” Blassingame said. “I just wanted to stay locked in throughout the game, cheering on my teammates. They were out there playing hard, so I had to come out with the same energy. That’s all it is.”
Twice, the Trojans extended the margin to as many as six points in the second half. But the Eagles never let Auburn get away from them.
Weems scored with 3:32 left, part of his game-high 19 points, to get Federal Way back within two at 51-49. The teams traded two-point possessions down the stretch, with two Weems free throws making it 55-53 with 44 seconds left.
Auburn ran the clock on its final possession but failed to extend the lead. With just 12.8 seconds left, the Eagles advanced the ball, but Auburn’s defense forced a tough, fadeaway three-point attempt as time was running out from Marcus Cole.
Federal Way’s final shot to tie it came up short as the buzzer sounded.
“We played hard,” Federal Way coach Yattah Reed said. “That’s one thing that we did consistently this year. I thought it was just possessions, that we didn’t capitalize on. We lost that game because of the possessions that we didn’t secure. We’ll learn. It’s promising. They’re upset about the loss because of the home streak. I don’t know how long it’s been since we’ve lost at home. But it’s going to be like that when you’re playing good teams.”
Both teams saw this one as a glimpse of the future.
“It was a good test, a good test for real,” Blassingame said. “We’ve got more work to do.”
“With the young guys, and the freshmen that we have, it’s promising,” Reed said.