TACOMA, Wash. – Kaden Hansen and Tre Blassingame headed to their student section after the last honk.
First Blassingame, then Hansen jumped onto the scorer’s table, slipped two thumbs under each end of the “Auburn” name on their jerseys, and lifted the letters.
For the first time in more than 115 years of history, Auburn High School’s basketball program was crowned state champions, cemented by a 58-48 win over Rainier Beach at the Tacoma Dome on Saturday.
And best of all, they’re the ones who made it happen – a dream many of the seven seniors on the team have set out to achieve somewhere playing with each other since they were in primary school.
“They’ve been dreaming about it forever,” Auburn coach Ryan Hansen said. “I coached these guys, it’s moving. These guys were special. Really special. They put Auburn on the map, and they’re gonna be history forever at Auburn High School.
On his way to Trojans #2 triumph, he had to survive a row of assassins. The WIAA Class 3A State Basketball Trophy crosses the Metro League. Only twice in the league’s nine-year run at the top of the state has a non-Metro League team even competed for a title (Mt. Spokane, 2019).
Two years ago, Ryan Hansen knew his young group — specifically his 2022 class — who had been kicked out of the first round of the 4A state tournament faced an uphill battle if they had to do it before they got his diploma.
Trojans were going down to 3A in the next WIAA rating cycle. And the 3A trophy went through the vaunted cast of Seattle state powers.
“It’s a tough league, there’s no doubt about it. It’s every year. We wanted it kind of like that,” Ryan Hansen said. “We were intentional. the lineup of Metro teams in our season. And if you look at the top five teams in the metro, we’ve played all five, beaten all five.
Auburn, SBLiveThe preseason favorite and No. 2 seed entering the tournament, defeated No. 1 Garfield in the quarterfinals – a long-awaited rematch that came sooner than expected after Auburn’s loss to Mt. Spokane during the regional round.
He knocked out Braeden Smith and No. 5 Seattle Prep in the state semifinals on Friday. And on Saturday, he beat eight-time state champion coach Mike Bethea and No. 4 Rainier Beach.
But not without a fight.
Maleek Arington hit a pair of 3s in the third quarter to help Auburn take a 10-point lead in the fourth. The Vikings cut it with a series of self-inflicted injuries from Auburn. With 2:08 to go, the Trojans committed an intentional foul, a personal foul and a technical foul in quick succession.
Beach hit 3 of 6 free throws to cut the lead to 52-46.
Then Blassingame dropped a base float on Josh Conerly Jr., senior Dae’Kwon Watson was caught off guard by an illegal screen on the other end, and the Trojans held on.
“We’re just one big family, man,” Watson said. “We wanted it all those 7th, 8th grade years where we won state in college, and look at us now – won our senior year state, our last game.”
Kaden Hansen got rid of some shooting issues early in the tournament and had his best game of the week. He led all scorers with 19 points and made 3 of 7 3-point attempts to get there. Blassingame had 17 points and nine boards and the Trojans shot 55% from the field in the second half.
“Honestly, my legs didn’t feel good the first two days, but it’s the state championship, you have to be there,” said Hansen, a Saint Martin commitment. “Either you show up or you don’t.”
Rainier Beach may not have had the type of talented future college and NBA spectators in the Tacoma Dome have been accustomed to seeing for most of head coach Mike Bethea’s 28 years, but these Vikings n were not left out.
They finished second in the Metro League. They spent January without Bethea, who was hospitalized with a serious case of COVID.
O Saturday, they were led by 17 points and 12 points from Nahmier Robinson senior and eight boards from 6-foot-5 senior Josh Conerly, who is a five-star offensive line prospect.
For Bethea, this year’s squad had characteristics that none of its other 12 teams had made it to the state title stage.
“We weren’t supposed to be here,” Bethea said. “The fact that we got this far, with the adversity we went through, we gave ourselves the opportunity to do something, it just didn’t materialize. It was not our night.
—Andy Bühler; @AndyBuhler.