Loose Ball

Cardinal Ritter’s Gary Clark (33), Vashon’s Kobe Clark (24) and Ritter’s Glenn Valentine (1) dive after a loose ball during Friday night’s February 22, 2019 game at Vashon for the Boys Class 3 ditrict championship. The Wolverines went on to defeat the Lions of Cardinal Ritter 85-62.

On February 9, the Vashon Wolverines edged the Trinity Titans 59-58 in the showcase game of the Vashon Winter Classic in a showdown of two of the area’s top high school basketball teams.

The Wolverines won the game on two last-second free throws by junior guard Phillip Hunt, which touched off a wild celebration by the Wolverines’ fans and players. Everyone in blue was happy, with the exception of one man. That would be Vashon head coach Tony Irons.

In the victorious Vashon locker room, Irons delivered a long lecture to his team, expressing his dissatisfaction with its performance, despite the win. The post-game lecture went viral on social media.

One month later, the Vashon Wolverines were completing a dominant run to the Class 3 state championship, which concluded last Saturday in Springfield. Irons’ message to his players was apparently taken to heart as the Wolverines played with great energy on both ends of the court and cut a wide swath of destruction in its path on their way to their third state title in four years.

Vashon’s two biggest obstacles on their way to the state championship were Cardinal Ritter in the district tournament and a rematch with Trinity in the state quarterfinals. Both teams were viable state championship contenders as well but Vashon vanquished Ritter 85-62 and Trinity 70-51 on their way to the Final Four. In between was a 37-point victory over Hancock in the sectional playoffs.

In the state semifinals, the Wolverines defeated fellow perennial state power Charleston 70-47 in the state semifinals. Senior guard Mario McKinney had 26 points and eight rebounds to lead the Wolverines while Russell scored 20 points and made a team-high five 3-pointers.

Vashon completed its championship run last Saturday by defeating a very game Springfield Catholic team 69-59, giving the Wolverines three state championships in four seasons. McKinney completed his stellar career at Vashon with 23 points and seven rebounds. Junior forward Cam’Ron Fletcher had 19 points and five rebounds on eight of 11 shooting from the field. Russell added 17 points, five rebounds and knocked down three 3-pointers.

Lutheran North’s girls were about five minutes away from pulling off one of the biggest upsets in state tournament history, but the Crusaders were outlasted by a powerhouse Strafford team 61-53 in the Class 3 state championship game last Saturday in Springfield. The victory completes a four-year championship run and a record winning streak of 115 games for Strafford.

With just under five minutes left in the game, the Crusaders trailed Stafford by one points, but senior star Hayley Frank took over the game down the stretch and led her team to victory with 34 points and 11 rebounds. Lutheran North was led by senior guard Maddie Buford led the Crusaders with 14 points while senior Kaylynn Hayden and sophomore Taleah Dilworth scored nine points apiece.

Buford was sensational in the Crusaders’ 56-46 victory over Licking in the state semifinals last Friday night. The 5’9” standout scored 29 points, including 23 points in the second half when she literally took over the game for the Crusaders to will them into the state finals. She also had 11 rebounds and three assists.

The state runner-up finish completes a strong run for the Crusaders’ very talented senior class that won 92 games, three district championships and made two Final Four runs during their careers. Buford, Hayden and Jordyn White all finished their careers with more than 1,000 points and were instrumental in Lutheran North’s high level of success.

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