On its road to a 4A state championship win over Central Valley, Mount Si learned to play with a target on its back

TACOMA — A dejected Mount Si team dismounted the bus late after a Feb. 15 district tournament loss to Woodinville, a team it hadn’t lost to in years. Facing a road of loser-out games, the returning 4A state runner-up knew it needed to wake up. 

They huddled up, interlocked arms, looked one another in the eye and spoke honestly.

“It sucked when we lost in the state championship last year,” Jabe Mullins said. “We all have that taste in our mouth still. We were like, ‘we need to go get it done. We can’t lose again. I don’t want to feel that feeling again.’ ”

On Saturday, those bitter feeling were replaced with pure joy, after Mount Si beat Central Valley, 58-47, in the 4A state championship in the Tacoma Dome, behind Mullins’ hot hand and steady presence. 

The Wildcats held all but one Central Valley player, junior Teagen Hoard (13 points) in single digits scoring to make good on a goal they made a year ago when they brought back two Division I standouts from a team that lost to Gonzaga Prep in the state title game. 

But all summer and fall, Mullins said the team felt like the hunted by some of the state’s best programs.

“We knew we had a target on our back,” Mullins said. “We knew we were going to take every team’s best shot.”

In Central Valley, itself a disorienting defensive-minded group, the Wildcats stifled steady-handed point guard Jayce Simmons, capable scorer Noah Sanders, and 6-foot-10 post presence Gavin Galstrap, and toppled a team that made an impressive run from 4A Greater Spokane League champions, to District 8 champions to a Friday night upset of top-ranked Union. 

The bumps in the road Mount Si faced were a feature, not a bug, in a run that Tyler Patterson, a Montana State commit, said started exactly a year ago.

“We played some great teams, but we knew all along we were the best team in the state,” Mullins said. “We have the best players, the best coach, we’re long, athletic, we knew what we had to do. We just came out and played like it.”

WHAT MADE THE DIFFERENCE

It’s no accident two defensively-minded teams met in the state championship. In a clash of the state’s best, Mount Si’s defense spoke a little louder. The Wildcats held Central Valley to 34.6 percent shooting, and its long lineup of 6-foot-6 Mullins, 6-foot-7 Tyler Patterson, 6-foot-6 Quin Patterson and 6-foot-9 Hayden Curtiss, Central Valley had a hard time getting going.

“We’re just, defensively we’re good. We’re really good,” Griffith said. “That’s why we got here last year.”

Added  CV guard Jayce Simmons: “They’re just so fundamentally sound. Don’t make a lot of mistakes, turnovers, keep those low, and that really helps them.”

PIVOTAL MOMENTS

Mullins hit a 3 with 3:45 left in the fourth quarter to push Mount Si’s lead to 11 and iced the game with a jumper to make that lead 13 with less than a minute left. 

PLAYERS OF THE GAME

Jabe Mullins, Mount Si

Yesterday, his 14 assists and eight boards did the talking. In the state title game, Mullins, a Saint Mary’s commit, scored 26 points, dished out seven assists and pulled down five rebounds and hit key shot after key shot. Mullins’ seven assists brought him within three of the all-time 4A state tournament assist record set by Franklin’s Peyton Siva in 2008.

Dylan Darling, Central Valley

A glance at a box score won’t do justice the impact darling had on the Bears. He was first on the ground for loose balls. He guarded Jabe Mullins. And the sophomore guard scored three of his nine points on a contested layup and a foul to pull CV within five points at the end of the third quarter. 

QUOTABLE

Jason Griffith, Mount Si coach

Jabe and Bennett have taken care of the ball all year for us. So we knew if we could just get a lead down the stretch, put a little pressure on them, spread them out, have them go make plays, which they did. 

Jayce Simmons, Central Valley guard

“This season was everything I hoped it would be. With those group of guys, awesome group of guys in that locker room. Sad that it’s over, but it happens, life goes on.”

Game highlights

Statewide High School Sports Reporter at SBLive | andy@scorebooklive.com

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