Mark Morris boys’ coach Bill Bakamus likes to compare basketball with old-school boxing fights.
So what match did he compare the Monarchs’ bout with Tumwater on Saturday to?
Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns’ 1981 contest earned the nod this time around, as the Monarchs held off the district rival T-Birds 55-53 in the first round of the Southwest 2A District Tournament at Ted M. Natt Court.
“They had an epic battle,” Bakamus said. “Our start was awful. They really took the fight to us, they came out and punched us in the mouth.”
A dominating 23-6 third quarter and a 3-pointer from guard Dawson Fritz proved to be the difference-makers. Tyler Berger scored 22 points in the win, and his brother Garrett Berger scored another 20 points.
Fritz’s lead-taking shot wasn’t pretty — it came off his hands funny and banked off the glass before rolling through the net — but it did the trick, as the Monarchs took a 53-51 lead with 55 seconds left.
“I just let it fly,” Fritz said. “I was kind of kind of hesitant, but I knew I was open and that I needed to come through. When it left my hands I knew right away that it was going to be a bank and when it went in, it just felt good.”
Fritz has had plenty open looks this season, and until two weeks ago, would usually pass to another player along the perimeter. Now, though, he says things have changed.
“I’ve been getting more aggressive toward the end of the season,” Fritz said. “Postseason, and other players have to step up. Got to get some points somehow.”
Fritz said he’s become increasingly confident in his shooting lately and has been putting extra time into his shooting during practices. It’s something that could become an important factor as the Monarchs tread further into the postseason. They will face Centralia at 6 p.m. Tuesday at R.A. Long in the district semifinals.
“Otherwise we’re going to see more double-teams, the post will be more crowded,” Bakamus said. “You have to be an offensive threat, and he knows it. He’s been putting more time into his game and putting more shots up. To his credit, he took the game-winning shot.”
Of what’s now the fourth last-second win of the season for the Monarchs, Bakamus alluded to an added sense of confidence in close games, and a collected team composure when MM is down.
Such as when MM came out of the half down 26-17 and rallied to go up eight points at the end of the third.
“It wasn’t beautiful by design but it was one of those things where our composure was at one of its highest levels when it needed to be,” Bakamus said. “We came and played with a greater amount of passion and urgency when we needed to.”
The win comes against a Bakamus disciple, MM alumnus Josh Wilson, now in his first year coaching Tumwater. The Monarchs walloped the Thunderbirds 87-68 in December, but Fritz and Bakamus agreed that this isn’t the same team they faced before.
“(Wilson’s) handprints are all over this thing,” Bakamus said. “He utilizes his guys efficiently and I really like the look of the team and I really like how they operate.”
Fritz added: “They’re a lot different. They have a great coaching staff and they came in here knowing they needed to play their hearts out and that’s what they did. They did everything they could.”
It just wasn’t enough to topple the playoff-savvy Monarchs.