Hazen girls, Liberty boys basketball advance to 3A Districts

Hazen enters as No. 6 seed, finishes in third; Liberty entered as No. 2 seed and placed second.

The Hazen girls and Liberty boys basketball teams were in action Wednesday, Feb. 8, at Lake Washington High School during the 3A KingCo basketball tournament.

The Hazen Highlander girls team entered the tournament as the lowest-seeded team and advanced to the first round of the District two tournament. After beating Liberty’s girls in the opening round and falling to Juanita, Hazen took on Mercer Island in a win-or-go-home game.

“The girls did a good job of putting a full game together, they stuck together and got to see the results,” said Hazen Head Coach Bruce Cooper.

The beginning of the game could not have gone any better, Hazen jumped out to a 7-0 lead and ended the first quarter up 11-4.

“They were just hungry because they knew the magnitude of this game ... I kept telling them we’re playing for our season. We try and make our practices harder than the games and it really showed today,” Cooper said.

“When my teammates are in the right position at the right time and they are open while I’m driving. Then they finish the play, I think it’s great,” said player Dakota Nap.

Hazen was able to keep the lead and was up by 15 at the half, 25-10.

The game was important to these Hazen girls and Coach Cooper, especially since Mercer Island beat the team twice during the regular season by a total of 15 points over those two games.

“We needed to bring it or else we were going to be flat. So, my mentality was [to] go and be a beast out there, and I had to just take it to them,” Nap said.

The Highlanders are in the postseason for the first time under first-year head coach Cooper. “It’s huge for me. I’m excited and surprised all at the same time. But I also know what this team is capable of and I just keep telling them to believe and they have done a good job at that,” he said.

Hazen takes on the sixth seed in the Metro League which will be the loser in the game between Bishop Blanchet and Holy Names Academy.

Liberty’s fate ended with similar results as the Highlanders with a birth in the District tournament. But the Patriots didn’t end their tournament how they wanted.

“Certainly wasn’t our best effort tonight, we’re moving on to the district tournament where we got a chance to qualify for the state tournament,” said Head Coach Omar Parker.

Liberty faced off against the Bellevue Wolverines in the 3A KingCo championship. The Wolverines came into the matchup on a 10-game win streak and have not lost in the new year.

The two times these teams met this season Bellevue won both games by double digits.

Liberty struggled out of the gate, with the Patriots only scoring four points in the first quarter. KingCo 3A MVP Ryan Gallagher scored the first six points for the Patriots.

Over the last three minutes before halftime, Patriot freshman Jackson Whitaker knocked down two big shots as well as sophomore Maxwell Vermeulen hit a big three, getting Liberty going.

Even with the momentum, the Pats still trailed 44-20 at halftime.

The rest of the game was all Wolverines, who went on to win 79-49. The one bright spot for Liberty was freshman Jackson Whitaker who finished with 16, making three three-pointers in the second half.

“Very rarely do you have a really good player, who is one of our top scores who is also our most improved player throughout the year,” Parker said. “His growth has been enormous, and it really is a bunch of young guys who have surprised us and gotten better throughout the year.”

Liberty hosts a playoff game during the opening round of the district tournament and faces the winner of Lakeside (Seattle) and Bishop Blanchet.

KingCo 3A MVP Ryan Gallagher with ball in hand heading into a quarter break. Photo courtesy of Quinn Dasher

KingCo 3A MVP Ryan Gallagher with ball in hand heading into a quarter break. Photo courtesy of Quinn Dasher