In a thrilling boys basketball matchup at Rainier Connect Arena this past Tuesday night, the Eatonville Cruisers orchestrated a comeback to claim a 59-55 triumph over The Northwest School.
Mark Nueva emerged as the driving force behind the victory, delivering a season-high 25 points.
"Mark put in so much work this off-season. It's showing,” said head coach TJ Cotterill. “He had some strong finishes in the first half and then found the shots within the flow of what we were doing in the second half. He's stepped up for us. He plays so balanced and under control, and he's so much stronger this year. It showed tonight.”
Despite trailing 11-9 at the end of the first quarter and heading into halftime with a 25-20 deficit, Eatonville found its rhythm. Nueva had already contributed 13 of his 25 points by halftime. With just under a minute left in the third quarter, Eatonville seized the lead at 42-41.
In a pivotal moment with a minute to play in the game, and the Cruisers leading 57-55, Amari Samuel put the game away after he secured the rebound and scored, extending the lead to 59-55.
Coach Cotterill praised Samuel's defensive prowess, calling it a "huge play" that sealed the victory.
The Northwest School had opportunities to narrow the gap in the closing moments, but the tenacious Cruiser defense, particularly Griffin Clevenger's contributions, thwarted their efforts.
Cotterill reflected on the team's defensive excellence, singling out Clevenger.
"Griffin had a stretch there in the second half when he took over with his defense, finishing, and passing,” Cotterill said.
Leading the scoring chart, Nueva notched 25 points, followed by Samuel with 13 and Clevenger with 10 (nine in the second half). Other contributors included Nate Goode (four points), Hunter Klumpar (three), Michael Stogsdill (three), and Logan Taylor (one).
WIN OVER ORTING
The Cruisers' clash against the Orting Cardinals on Thursday evening was a tale of momentum swings and unwavering resilience. The Cruisers' solid defense and composed free-throw shooting down the stretch secured a 64-52 victory.
In a game defined by back-and-forth action, the first period set the tone as both teams exchanged leads multiple times. The Cruisers eventually edged ahead to end the quarter with a slight 15-14 advantage, led by Samuel's assertive play, tallying seven points in the period.
“Amari is learning every day what it takes to play fearless, relentless and selfless. He took on a tough defensive assignment, again, and played fearless offensively. What's incredible also is that his confidence just doesn't waver, no matter the moment. He's had a few games now where he's made his biggest plays late in the game,” said Cotterill.
The second quarter ignited with the Cruisers embarking on a 7-0 run, propelling them to an eight-point lead. However, turnovers marred Eatonville's rhythm, allowing Orting to counter with an 8-0 run of their own, tying the game at 31 by halftime. Despite the fluctuations, Clevenger's eight points showcased the Cruisers' offensive depth.
Eatonville opened the third quarter with determination, initiating a 7-0 run to regain an eight-point lead. However, Orting once again rallied, finishing the quarter on an 8-0 run, leveling the score at 43 apiece. The quarter underscored the resilience of both teams, setting the stage for a thrilling final frame.
The intensity escalated in the fourth quarter as the teams exchanged blows, keeping the game on a knife's edge. The Cardinals managed to narrow the gap to just one point at 49-48, keeping the outcome uncertain. It was then that freshman Samuel seized the moment, sinking a pivotal 3-pointer with 1:23 remaining, giving Eatonville a crucial 58-52 advantage.
A pivotal turnover, forced by Nueva, provided the Cruisers with possession and a chance to manage the clock. Out of a timeout, Klumpar stepped up, sinking his fifth 3-pointer of the night to extend the lead.
Cotterill applauded the team's defensive efforts in containing Orting's key player, 6-foot 7-inch Jason Warren, limiting him to a mere six points after his dominant performance of 27 points in their previous meeting.
"Hunter and Nate did a fantastic job being tough with him. They bought in to their assignments and the rest of the guys were connected around him. We had to keep him out of the paint and off the boards and we did that," Cotterill said.
Cotterill continued by commending Klumpar on his play.
“That was probably the best overall game from Hunter. What he did defensively, on the glass, buying into his assignment and hitting big shots offensively. He plays with so much heart. In many ways he's the soul of our team. He could have cared less if he scored 20 or 0, as long as we win.”
The hard-fought win against Orting not only extended the Cruisers' winning streak to four games but also highlighted their ability to navigate challenging moments and emerge victorious.