State hoops: Auburn boys edge Eastside Catholic, advance to 3A semifinals

Auburn High School has reached the final four two years in a row.

The Auburn Trojans are one step closer in becoming repeat champions of 3A high school boys basketball in the state of Washington after taking down the Eastside Catholic Lancers 45-42.

“I’m so proud of these guys. They’re a tough gritty group,” coach Ryan Hansen said after the Thursday, March 2 quarterfinals victory at the Tacoma Dome.

Auburn (21-6) is looking to be the first repeat boys 3A state champ since Rainier Beach held the crown from 2013 to 2014. The Trojans are just two wins away from that future.

Auburn plays Garfield (23-2) at 9 p.m. March 3, a rematch of last season’s semifinal matchup.

“The metro league is the toughest league in the state, year in and year out. We get excited to play those teams,” Hansen said.

The night before the win over Eastside Catholic, Auburn didn’t play its best basketball, narrowly escaping an early upset against Arlington. From here on out, the Trojans will be the underdogs based off seedings.

Eastside Catholic came in as the three seed and had the first-round bye, but were playing its best basketball. The Lancers won the Metro League tournament and the district tournament, but were still seeded behind the Garfield Bulldogs.

In the first quarter, both teams were feeling each other out. Auburn was down 8-2 early, but made a run late in the quarter, finishing on a 10-4 run and ending the quarter deadlocked 12-12.

But adversity struck the Trojans as their young star Jaylen Petty went down with a knee injury, which was described by Hansen as a flipped meniscus. Petty would not return to the game after the 5:00 mark in the first quarter, and his time table to return is uncertain.

The Trojans turned to their bench to pick up for the injured Petty. Senior Lateibreon Chandler and sophomore Carter Hansen stepped up huge for Auburn.

“Lateibreon played a great game coming off the bench for us, eating a lot of Jaylen’s minutes,” Hansen said.

Trojan Tyrell Nichols (12) whips a pass to a teammate in the fourth quarter. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Trojan Tyrell Nichols (12) whips a pass to a teammate in the fourth quarter. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Defensively, both teams put a stranglehold on each other, with neither team scoring double digit points in the period. Senior Semaj Brown scored seven of the Auburn nine points in the second quarter and had two rebounds in the quarter. The Trojans took a 21-20 halftime lead.

Auburn continued to make it difficult on the Lancers in the second half, holding them to just 10 points. The Trojans got the spark offensively with Chandler, who hit two big threes, jolting Auburn out to what would be a nine-point lead right before the quarter ended. The Trojan led 38-30 after three quarters.

In the fourth quarter, no Trojan would score more than three points. Luvens Valcin was that Trojan who registered a block, rebound and an assist on top of his three points in the quarter.

Auburn had a huge task to slow down 6-foot-10 junior Jacob Cofie. The Trojans’ tallest player is Semaj Brown, who is 6-5. With that height difference, Auburn still out-rebounded the Lancers, 37-33, and held Cofie to just five points. The Trojans would help supply Brown with help via double teams throughout the game.

“Our coaches did a great job on the scouting reports, and Semaj played a hell of a game and did everything we asked and needed him to do,” Hansen said.

Trojan senior Tyrell Nichols took it upon himself once Petty went down to take control of the game and lead his team.

“The least I could do is go my hardest for him (Jaylen)…I had a bad game yesterday. I just had to come out here and get used to the environment a little better,” Nichols said.

Nichols finished with 11 points, five rebounds and five assists.