Five weeks ago, the Ferndale boys basketball team was 1-7 and in danger of not making the playoffs. But they never stopped believing.
And after Saturday’s 73-51 victory over Cascade (Everett) in the Class 3A District 1 quarterfinals, the high-flying Golden Eagles are one win away from what seemed like an impossibility a month ago: reaching the state tournament.
“Honestly, we never held our heads down,” said senior Jazen Guillory of the early-season struggles. “We always believed in each other.”
Saturday’s game could have been a letdown after Ferndale’s shocking upset of ninth-ranked Shorecrest last Tuesday in the first round of district. It could have been … but it wasn’t.
The seventh-seeded Golden Eagles, who are now 10-10 on the season, hit three 3-pointers in the first period to get warmed up and then bombed in eight more as Ferndale put up its second-highest point total of the season against the ninth-seeded Bruins (9-10).
All 11 3-pointers were made by senior sharpshooters Luke Wells and Mark Schlichting, whose points only came from beyond the arch. Wells finished with six for a team-high 18 points and Schlichting had five for 15 points.
Junior Damian Toney, one of the most improved players in the league, had another dominating game inside with 16 points and Guillory, already one of the league’s top point guards, had 13 points while directing the offense.
Those four, along with sophomore Conner Walcker, who had 8 points, and junior reserve Jewelz Terry make up the Six Iron Eagles, who due to injuries and illness played all but the final 77 seconds of Saturday’s game.
“They realize that they have a special opportunity,” said Ferndale coach Jason Owens of his entire team. “We wouldn’t be here if they didn’t believe. These seniors just wanted a second chance, and now they have that chance. Life doesn’t give you a lot of second chances.”
The Golden Eagles will get their chance to do something very special.
On Wednesday at 7:15 p.m. at Everett Community College, the Golden Eagles will face third-seed Stanwood (14-6) in a district semifinal.
A victory would not only put Ferndale in the district championship game but would guarantee the Golden Eagles a berth in the state tournament, something that has only happened three other times in Ferndale’s history and hasn’t happened since 1996.
Should Ferndale lose the semifinal, it could still qualify for state with a victory in one of next Saturday’s two consolation finals at ECC.
Five weeks ago, going to state might have seemed like the impossible dream. Having lost starter Isaiah Carlson to injury before the season and another starter, Jesse Sapp, to an injury late in the season was bad enough.
But add to that the emotional loss of senior Sean Morrison in mid-season to a disease that caused him to have brain surgery on Tuesday. The good news is that the inspirational leader and former starter is out of the hospital and the surgery was declared a success.
The team continues to wear warm-ups with Morrison’s number 2 on the back and lays his jersey over one of the chairs on the bench. He was even mentioned during introductions as the “sixth starter.”
All of which has inspired Ferndale to the brink of something historic. But the glory and accolades will have to wait.
“Really, we all believed,” said Schlichting of the team’s mindset during the season’s many challenges. “We felt this was going to be a special year, but then we lost three of our starters. Now we’re going to focus on a district championship. We still have business to do.”
NOTES: After a few false starts, Saturday’s game truly was the final one to be played in the current gym. The Eagles Nest will be torn down and replaced with a new facility when the new high school opens next fall.
Ferndale 73, Cascade (Everett) 51
Cascade (Everett) 15 11 11 14—51
Ferndale 17 20 19 17—73
Cascade (Everett): Aidan Kopra 4, Nate Lagutang 3, Andrew Cisneros 3, Devin Gilbert 14, Prabhman Aujla 3, Bodie Williams, Cameron Edwards 21, Anouthal Vongphet, Jackson Nelson 3, Kolten Monteith.
Ferndale: Jewelz Terry 2, Lucas Mills, Xander Castleberry, Mark Schlichting 15, Conner Walcker 8, Jazen Guillory 13, Luke Wells 18, Damian Toney 16, Bishop Ootsey 1.
CLASS 3A DISTRICT 1 TOURNAMENT
Tuesday, Feb. 8
#9 Cascade (Everett) 65, Lynnwood 53 (loser out)
#10 Edmonds-Woodway 58, #15 Snohomish 57 (loser out)
#11 Marysville-Getchell 62, #14 Shorewood 42 (loser out)
#13 Monroe 71, #12 Oak Harbor 62 (loser out)
#1 Arlington 65, #8 Marysville-Pilchuck 53
#7 Ferndale 72, #2 Shorecrest 63
#3 Stanwood 66, #6 Everett 49
#4 Mountlake Terrace 61, #5 Mount Vernon 55
Thursday, Feb. 10
Everett 73, Marysville-Getchell 57 (loser out)
Shorecrest 73, Edmonds-Woodway 27 (loser out)
Mount Vernon 58, Monroe 51 (loser out)
Cascade (Everett) 64, Marysville-Pilchuck 63 (loser out)
Saturday, Feb. 12
Mountlake Terrace 71, Everett 55
Arlington 70, Shorecrest 57
Stanwood 60, Mount Vernon 48
Ferndale 73, Cascade (Everett) 51
Wednesday, Feb. 16
Everett at Shorecrest (loser out)
Cascade (Everett) at Mount Vernon (loser out)
At Everett Community College
Ferndale vs. Stanwood
Mountlake Terrace vs. Arlington
Saturday, Feb. 19
Consolation games (winners third, to state regionals, losers out)
Championship game (winner first, loser second, both to state regionals)
Jim Carberry is a former Bellingham Herald sports editor and author of several books on Whatcom County prep basketball. Follow him on Twitter @whatcomhoops and visit the Whatcom Hoops Facebook page.