PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – Lacking a glamour recruit or a history of success in elite national tournament play, Jackson (Mill Creek, Wash.) entered the week as a bit of an unknown at the MaxPreps Holiday Classic.
That changed in an instant Saturday night with a dramatic buzzer beater in the semifinals of the 24-team Invitational Division at Rancho Mirage High School.
With the final seconds ticking away in overtime, Timberwolves senior forward Brian Zehr beat the clock on a 3-pointer to give Jackson a 53-52 win over Long Beach Poly (Long Beach, Calif.).
Jackson will meet Saturday’s first semifinal winner, Capital Christian (Sacramento, Calif.), in the final Monday night at 8:40 p.m.
Jackson went 26-1 last season and reached Washington’s 4A championship game. But the Timberwolves haven't had the opportunity to test themselves against power teams outside of the Evergreen State.
"That’s why we come down here to play against teams like that, an elite program," Jackson head coach Steve Johnson said of Long Beach Poly. "You can’t imitate what they do in practice."
Though Zehr was Saturday's hero, senior Jason Todd led Jackson with 22 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and two steals. The 6-foot-5 wing is Washington's reigning Gatorade Player of the Year and will continue his hoops career at the University of Portland.
After putting up 31 points Friday night, senior guard Dan Kingma added 12 points and four assists for Jackson (5-0).
Poly appeared to be pulling away in the final minutes of the third quarter, extending its lead to 12 points. But Jackson responded with a 12-0 run to knot the game at 40 early in the fourth quarter.
"Down 12, it didn't look very good, but I was proud of the way we hung in there and chipped away," Johnson said. "Either way, win or lose in the end, the effort was really was tremendous."
Ke'jhan Feagin (18 points), Chris Sullivan (15) and Kameron Murrell finished in double figures for the Jackrabbits, who dropped to 8-4 against a challenging schedule this season. Poly also lost at the buzzer last week at the Tarkanian Classic in Las Vegas to Valor Christian (Highlands Ranch, Colo.).
"It’s exciting to be in the championship game and have the opportunity to do our state proud," Johnson said.
Shorthanded Capital Christian knocks off defending champs
Uchenna Iroegbu scored 29 points and connected on all 15 of his free throw attempts to give Capital Christian – minus one of its top players – a 47-43 semifinal victory over defending MaxPreps Holiday Classic champ Westchester (Los Angeles).
Iroegbu, a 5-11 senior guard and the younger brother of Washington State University freshman point man Ike Iroegbu, scored six points in the final minute to help the Cougars notch their second big win in as many days.
In quarterfinal play Friday, Capital Christian (14-2) overcame national No. 16 Etiwanda to advance.
The Sacramento school was without the services of 6-6, 280-pound post man Nifae Lealao, who left for Texas to participate in the U.S. Army All-American Game next week. Lealao is committed to play football at Stanford.
After trailing 21-18 at halftime, Westchester seized control in the third quarter but failed to land a knockout blow against the determined Cougars in a low-scoring affair.
Capital Christian owned the fourth quarter, outscoring Westchester 22-12. Sophomore Tiegen Jones hit a key 3-pointer to pull the Cougars to within one point at 35-34 with 3:55 remaining and Iroegbu took over from there.
Michigan-bound senior D.J. Wilson, a multi-skilled 6-9 forward, picked up his game in Lealao's absence with 12 points and 15 rebounds.
Senior guard Layon Gooden paced Westchester with 19 points.
Other Saturday Invitational Division scores
Fifth-place semifinal: St. Edward (Lakewood, Ohio) 43, Etiwanda (Calif.) 40
Fifth-place semifinal: Wenonah (Birmingham, Ala.) 62, Columbia Christian (Portland, Ore.) 58
Consolation semifinal: Calabasas (Calif.) 79, Alemany (Mission Hills, Calif.) 60
Consolation semifinal: Christian Brothers (St. Louis, Mo.) 72, Catalina Foothills (Tucson, Ariz.) 59
Ninth-place semifinal: Sunnyslope (Phoenix, Ariz.) 65, Bellevue (Wash.) 61
Ninth-place semifinal: American Fork (Utah) 56, De La Salle (Concord, Calif.) 47
Issaquah (Wash.) 68, Beverly Hills (Calif.) 58
Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.) 90, Tampa Catholic (Tampa, Fla.) 81
JSerra Catholic (San Juan Capistrano, Calif.) 74, Orangewood Academy (Garden Grove, Calif.) 67
Los Osos (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.) 35, Leuzinger (Lawndale, Calif.) 33
Monday’s Invitational Division schedule
Rancho Mirage High School
7 p.m. – Long Beach Poly vs. Westchester (third place)
8:40 p.m. – Capital Christian vs. Jackson (championship game)
Cathedral City High School
9:30 a.m. – Calabasas vs. Catalina Foothills
11 a.m. – Alemany vs. Christian Brothers (consolation championship)
12:30 p.m. – Beverly Hills vs. Tampa Catholic
2 p.m. – Harvard-Westlake vs. Issaquah
3:30 p.m. – Bellevue vs. De La Salle
5 p.m. – American Fork vs. Sunnyslope (ninth place)
6:30 p.m. – Columbia Christian vs. Etiwanda (seventh place)
8 p.m. – St. Edward vs. Wenonah (fifth place)
College of the Desert
5 p.m. – Leuzinger vs. Orangewood Academy
6:30 p.m. – JSerra Catholic vs. Los Osos