Union at State: Day 3 notes

Go, Go, Go:
The game-winning play started in a huddle during a timeout with 53 seconds remaining. Chris Morgan was about to shoot a free throw in an effort to tie the game at 62. Make it or miss it, the Titans would have to play defense. Union coach Maco Hamilton told his guys not to worry about calling a timeout if they successfully defended the play and got the ball back.

Morgan’s free throw went in and out, and Lakes kept the lead. The Lancers killed much of the shot clock before missing a 3-pointer. Caleb Whalen grabbed the rebound, got the ball to Morgan, who then made a perfect pass under pressure to Mitch Saylor. Sure you’ve heard by now, Saylor drilled his shot with 10 seconds left, and the Titans won 63-62.

“We told them we’d play it out,” Hamilton said. “We play transition. I couldn’t stop them. Let the kids play it out. That was all the kids right there.”

Saylor loves that style.

“That’s Maco Hamilton for ya,” Saylor said.

Anyone can score, anyone can contribute:
Chris Morgan clearly is the team leader, the team’s top go-to guy. But the Titans do not rely only on him to score. That’s one of the reasons they are playing for a state championship.

Take that last scoring play, for example. Morgan had the ball in his hands. He could have tried to make the play by himself. Of course, he made a different decision, and the Titans won.

“We’re an extremely unselfish team,” Morgan said. “I might get the ball in my hands late in the game, but that doesn’t mean I have to be the one taking the shots. I’ve got to be a playmaker and get the ball to the guy in position to score.”

He found Saylor on this night, but really, he could take his pick.

Through three games, Union leads the tournament in bench scoring. Yes, all the Titans can score.

The rebounder’s perspective:
Caleb Whalen got the rebound that led to the winning points for Union. Here is his recollection of those last few seconds.

“I just grabbed the rebound and said, ‘Where’s Chris?’ I had to get the ball out of my hands.”

He handed the ball to Morgan, then sprinted toward the offensive end. Even though it was a fast-break that he started, Whalen was in position to rebound on the other side of the court, just in case Saylor missed. 

Wise beyond their years:
How many times do you see it in college basketball, when a team scores a late bucket to take the lead, celebrates, then watches the other team go the length of the court to score the game-winner? 

Well, all of the Titans on the floor saw Saylor’s shot go in, but none of them forgot what to do next.

“As soon as it went in, I took off running back,” Saylor said.

Yes, time for defense.

Garett Speyer knew what he had to do, too: Find Andre Winston Jr., Lakes’ top player.

Speyer got to him, but Winston’s cross-over move to the top of the arc created a bit of space. Speyer reacted quickly enough to get a hand in Winston’s face just as he let fly that final shot. It was short. 

“We had to find Winston Jr., because he was so hot,” Whalen said. “Then he got the shot off. Whatever happens happens there. I’m happy it didn’t fall.”

And then it was time for Union to celebrate.

Fortunate, too:
Even though the Titans did get back on defense, even though they had a guy in Winston’s face, hey big shots from big-time players go in a lot. Winston Jr. is a big-time player, too, signed with James Madison.

Morgan called Winston “a real class guy” as well as an incredible player. 

“We were lucky he missed that shot,” Morgan said.

Mitch Saylor has signed a letter of intent to play football for the Montana Grizzlies. The way he’s playing this week, he might want to check to see if the basketball team needs any help, too.

Saylor scored nine points and had six assists in Friday’s semifinals. You already know about the final two, but he also had two more in the fourth quarter with a highlight-reel play. 

Playing defense, Saylor poked a pass toward midcourt, then beat two Lakes players to the ball. However, as he got to the ball, those players had converged around him. Saylor, a 6-foot-6 “point forward” used a behind-the-back dribble to break free, then he outraced the rest of the defenders for a fast-break lay-up and a 59-58 lead for the Titans.


Nice start:
Chris Morgan gave Union a 6-0 lead early in the first quarter with two 3-pointers. Then Garett Speyer made one from long range. Then sophomore Tanner Nelson splashed a 3-pointer. The Titans were 4 for 5 from long range in that quarter. They ended up 7 of 10 in the first half.

“We just kind of got in a rhythm and got in a flow,” Speyer said. “Tanner hit a couple of big 3s, and my shot finally dropped.”

For the game, Tanner Nelson was 3 for 3 from long range, Speyer was 3 for 7. That’ll work.

Stat nerd alert:
As many of you know, I’m a stickler for keeping stats. Tracking a full boxscore by myself in basketball is not easy. And I do not claim to be perfect. But I’m pretty good at it, and I am exceptionally strong at keeping a running track of all the scoring. I can tell you who scored Union’s 32nd point with 1:37 left in the second quarter. (Mitch Saylor, 3-ball.) I also become petrified if something is off with my running score.

So late in the third quarter, I looked up and saw that Union had 48 points on the board. 

Wait, the Titans only have 47. I have it right here on my notes. 

There was a whistle, and as the teams waited for the ball to be put back in play, I was frantically going over my notes, trying to find the one point that I might have missed.

(Deep down, though, I knew that the scoreboard was wrong. But I was thinking, ‘How can the scoreboard be wrong for this long in the state semifinals? Surely, someone would have noticed by now. It must be me.’ That’s when I become Paranoid Paul.)

So the quarter ends, and the scoreboard shows 48-47. I rush over to another member of the media to ask him if he was keeping track. He, too, said he had 48. 

(NOOOOOOOOOOO. I’m never off on this, I thought. You really have to know me to understand how freaked out I was.)

So, the minute between quarters passes and the board still shows 48-47. The officials were just about to put the ball back into play for the fourth quarter when I noticed the Lakes’ scorekeeper raising her hand, trying to get the attention of the tournament’s official scorekeeper. 

Phew, I thought. No, it’s not that I wanted Union to have fewer points on the board. I just wanted to be right.  (Yeah, yeah, call me selfish. But again, I’m just a little obsessive about these numbers.) 

Some others on press row wanted to know what was going on. I told them the score should be 47-47. A few seconds later, the scoreboard changed to 47-all, and an announcement was made.

And my panic attack ended. 

More than skill:
Union obviously has talent. A basketball team cannot make it this far without it. But there is more to this team, Garett Speyer says.

“When you come to Union, it’s like you’re adopted into a family,” Speyer said. “We do everything together. It’s kind of showing right now.”

Kyle Holmes, who scored 10 points in Friday’s win, said there is something special about this squad.

“I just didn’t really expect this coming into the preseason,” Holmes said. “As the season went along, we progressed and got better and better.”

Union will take on top-ranked and undefeated Enumclaw in the state championship game at 7 p.m. Saturday. Union lost to Enumclaw in the bi-district title game last week. The Titans beat the Nos. 4 and 2 teams in the state to get to the title game so they will not be intimidated.

After their win Friday, the Titans did not know yet who they would face in the finals. Enumclaw was just about to start its semifinal game.

“We’re just happy,” Chris Morgan said. “Whoever we get tomorrow night, we’ll be ready.”



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