The Rams qualified for regionals, breaking a state basketball drought that reaches back to 1975. They'll play for the district title after beating West Seattle in the semifinals.
No one said breaking through mediocrity was pretty.
Ingraham was still shaking off decades-old low expectations when its boys basketball team hit the court Saturday in the wake of securing its first berth to the regional round of the state tournament since 1975. The Rams upset No. 2 Eastside Catholic 50-43 on Friday night in the Class 3A SeaKing District tournament for the historic win.
Playing a third game in as many days proved to be challenging for the newcomers to deep playoff runs. Ingraham pushed through a lazy opening quarter in its semifinal matchup with West Seattle to win 57-46 for another milestone — a trip to the SeaKing District championship game.
Ingraham will Rainier Beach on Monday afternoon back at Sammamish High School for the title.
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“I’m sure that I’ll probably get a call or email or text from the governor,” second-year Rams coach Malcom Mack said.
And that’s not hyperbole. Governor Jay Inslee starred on Ingraham’s undefeated 1969 state championship team. The Rams advanced to state four times after that magical season, placing eighth in 1975.
And they hadn’t been back since.
Ingraham junior Mitchell Saxen is familiar with the history. Saxen, a 6-foot-10 forward, was a freshman when Inslee dropped by to share some encouraging words. And Saxen was part of last season’s renaming of the school’s court for coach Walt Milroy, who coached Inslee’s team to the title. Milroy is 99 and still gives players pep talks.
But when Saxen and teammates call the SeaKing tournament run the “comeback tour,” they don’t mean since the 1970s. The players are referring to the period before a bout of the flu and injuries tore through the roster midseason and a two-week break with no practice because of multiple winter blasts that hit the Puget Sound and canceled school broke up the team’s rhythm.
“We just had to lock back in with that laser-focus,” said Saxen, who had a game-high 22 points.
The Rams (16-7) felt the second half against the Wildcats (16-7) recaptured the magic. Ingraham outscored West Seattle 19-9 in the third quarter to take control.
Junior guard Latrell Jones picked off a Wildcats’ dribble and got the ball to guard Coz Collins for a three-pointer to give the Rams a 29-25 lead with 3:01 left in the quarter.
Jones later nailed a three-pointer, and senior forward E’Lijah Rabideau made a layup just before the buzzer sounded for a 36-27 advantage to end the third quarter.
West Seattle pulled within 49-44 on a shot by senior Abdul Mohamed with 48.5 seconds remaining. But Ingraham closed the game by going 8 for 8 at the free-throw line.
“When you have a good coach and kids listen (because) basketball is really rich in our area, you can make some noise,” Wildcats coach Keffrey Fazio said. “Malcom has been there a couple of years and has put in some really hard work. It shows, his kids have bought in.”
West Seattle also qualified for regionals, defeating Mercer Island on Friday to clinch. And like Ingraham, it’s hoping the tournament wins boost the RPI ranking when the WIAA seeds the teams.
The top eight avoid playing a loser-out game next week, guaranteeing at least one state tournament game at the Tacoma Dome.
“That’s been our goal,” Mack said. “A district title would be icing on the cake.”
Top-ranked Rainier Beach defeated O’Dea 71-65 in the other semifinal Saturday.
The Fighting Irish played without guards Noah William, a senior, and John Christofilis, a sophomore, due to ankle injuries. The players combined for 31.8 points and 10.4 rebounds per game this season.
Beach junior MarJon Beauchamp finished with 32 points and senior Jamon Kemp added 20. Irish sophomore Paolo Banchero had 31 points.
O’Dea will play West Seattle on Monday in the third/fourth-place game.