Photo courtesy of Patrick Krohn/Patrick Krohn Photography
                                Skyline senior forward Evan Alexander, left, tries to block Eastlake junior Yousef Elkugia. Skyline earned a 55-54 win against the Eastlake Wolves in a loser-out, KingCo 4A playoff matchup on Feb. 15.

Photo courtesy of Patrick Krohn/Patrick Krohn Photography Skyline senior forward Evan Alexander, left, tries to block Eastlake junior Yousef Elkugia. Skyline earned a 55-54 win against the Eastlake Wolves in a loser-out, KingCo 4A playoff matchup on Feb. 15.

Spartans earn win against Wolves with season on the line

The outcome of a rivalry matchup between the Eastlake Wolves and Skyline Spartans boys basketball teams came down to the final possession.

With the Spartans clinging to a 55-54 lead with just 8.9 seconds left in regulation, Skyline guard Michael Bania stepped to the free throw line for a 1-and-1 opportunity. Bania missed the free throw and Wolves’ junior Yousef Elkugia corralled the rebound before calling a timeout with just 7.1 seconds left on the clock, giving Eastlake a chance to win the game on the final possession. Following the timeout, the Wolves carried the ball down the floor and saw a pass nearly get stolen by Skyline senior Ashish Manda. Manda deflected the ball out of bounds with just 0.8 seconds left on the clock. Eastlake had one final chance but a shot from nearly half-court as the buzzer sounded fell short of the rim as Skyline preserved a 55-54 win against Eastlake in a loser-out, KingCo 4A playoff matchup for the ages on Feb. 15 at Lake Washington High School in Kirkland. Manda said his team never forgot a heartbreaking 51-43 overtime loss to Eastlake on Jan. 12.

“We came out with way more energy this time around. Especially with knowing that our season was on the line. It definitely showed out their tonight. It feels awesome. Everyone stepped up tonight. When the season is on the line, that is exactly what we needed from all of our players,” Manda said.

The Spartans improved their overall record to 17-6 while Eastlake finished the 2017-18 season with a 12-12 record. Skyline head coach Scott Dillinger believes his team’s experience played a factor in their ability to make key plays down the stretch.

“We’ve had 12 games now that have been decided by seven points or less. We’ve really held our own at the end of games. To be honest, that really has been the story of our season,” Dillinger said. “I couldn’t be prouder. We have weathered the storm a lot of times this year. Now we just got to do it one more (time).”

Skyline will face the Mount Si Wildcats in a winner-to-regional, loser-out KingCo 4A tournament playoff game at 7:45 p.m. on Feb. 17 at Lake Washington High School in Kirkland. Eastlake head coach Steve Kramer was emotional following the final game of the 2017-18 season. Kramer, who is in his fourth season leading the Wolves boys basketball program, said the finality of a season-ending defeat is something that is hard to prepare for.

“You never really think about the season ending until it ends. Right now my emotions are with the four seniors. This is my fourth year so this is a special group to me because they are the ones that were there when I got here. This is my first full graduating class so it is tough to see those guys go. That is what hit me as I walked into the locker room,” Kramer said. “It was a great game. It could had gone either way. Congratulations to Skyline, they certainly earned it.”

Kramer credited Skyline for controlling the boards for the duration of the game.

“They (Skyline) won the game with their rebounding tonight. Our first possession defense was awesome. I haven’t checked the stats but I think they scored more points on second shots than on first shots. That is a credit to them. That is what they do,” Kramer said.

Dillinger said defense is the Spartans’ biggest team strength.

“We’ve lived on defense. We’ve led the league in least points given up. That has been our bread and butter. We live inside (rebounding) and we live on defense. If you do that, you are always going to be in the game and have a chance to win,” Dillinger said.

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