Sam Cunliffe scores 25 to help No. 2 Vikings defeat top-ranked Garfield 76-69 before a raucous home crowd in the first of what could be four meetings between the Metro League powers.

Share story

Sam Cunliffe admitted it.

There was a bit of a message in Rainier Beach’s performance on Tuesday night.

“You come into our house and think you’re going to win,” Cunliffe said. “It’s not going to be like that. Not if I have something to say about it.”

Cunliffe had plenty to say, scoring a game-high 25 points as Rainier Beach handed Garfield its first loss in the state of Washington this season, 76-69, before a raucous, packed gymnasium in Rainier Beach. The Bulldogs’ only previous loss of the season had been back in December, to DeMatha of Maryland at the Les Schwab Invitational in Portland, led by future Washington Husky Markelle Fultz.

And for a half on Tuesday, it looked as if Garfield would keep it that way.

The Bulldogs scored the final four points of the second quarter, on baskets by Terrell Brown and Jashaun Agosto, to take a 41-36 lead at halftime.

Garfield’s lead grew to 46-38 on a drive and shot from Jaylen Nowell with 6:12 left in the third quarter before the momentum completely shifted. The Vikings (16-3 overall, 13-0 Metro) proceeded to go on an 18-5 run, capped by back-to-back buckets from Cunliffe, to turn that deficit into a 56-51 lead with 42 seconds to go in the quarter.

Rainier Beach led it 56-54 heading into the fourth, then built its lead to as much as eight points, 65-57, with 5:07 remaining. Trailing by seven, 70-63, after Kevin Porter scored for the Vikings with 2:01 left, Garfield put together one more run.

Agosto closed the gap to 70-69 with a three-pointer with 27 seconds left.

“All I can say is, the first round of a heavyweight fight,” Rainier Beach coach Mike Bethea said of the 3A showdown, still wiping sweat from his brow five minutes after the final buzzer. “Round one, 10-9 to us.”

Nursing that one-point lead, Porter made four free throws and Cunliffe added two more in the final seconds to put away the victory. Rainier Beach made 10 of 12 from the line in the second half, and 14 of 21 overall.

“We didn’t shoot a lot, but we took advantage of the ones we got,” Bethea said.

By contrast, as No. 2 Rainier Beach mounted first a comeback and then extended its lead, the top-ranked Bulldogs (17-2, 12-1) struggled from the line. Garfield went to the line 28 times, making just 15. The Bulldogs were 10 of 22 in the second half.

“We work on free throws every day,” Garfield coach Ed Haskins said. “It is what it is. I’m proud of them, though. We fought down the stretch.”

These teams could meet as many as three more times this season, as the playoffs get going. The Metro League tournament begins next week, then SeaKing District 2 and finally, the state tournament March 3-5 at the Tacoma Dome.

“We’ll see what happens,” Haskins said.

The Bulldogs learned, at the least on Tuesday, that Rainier Beach is for real.

“People were saying they can’t be beat,” Cunliffe said. “That they were going to beat us by 20.”