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Tuesday, December 5, 2023
Dec. 5, 2023

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Closeness means more than a trophy to Union

Titans cherish their time together as a team

By , Columbian High School Sports Reporter

TACOMA — The state tournament trophies do mean something to the Union boys basketball team.

They are shiny objects that show off the program’s success through the years.

The Titans have earned a trophy from the Class 4A state tournament in the Tacoma Dome the last three years.

There was third place in 2015. Then fourth place last year. This weekend, the Titans brought home a second-place trophy.

All worth something, even if the Titans would have preferred the championship trophy.

But none of them have any emotional value.

The Titans don’t play for hardware. They play for each other.

“The teams I have been on are worth more than trophies,” senior Cameron Cranston said Saturday night around midnight, after the Titans took a long time in the locker room to reflect.

Sure, the Titans were hurting from their 81-61 loss to Kentwood in the championship game.

But those last few emotional moments together as a team had more to do with the season being over, that this group of athletes would never play organized high school ball together again.

“I love all of these guys,” Cranston said. “These are the brothers you’re going to have for life. You can hit these guys up any time. But you can’t meet up with a trophy.”

A day later, the loss still stings.

The final score indicates it was a blowout, never close.

Not even the case.

Union and Kentwood put on a basketball clinic in the first half, going after one another for the first 16 minutes. Union led by five early. Kentwood took a three-point lead in the second quarter. Then Union rallied, taking the lead at halftime.

For a half, this looked like it was going to be a classic: There were eight ties and seven lead changes.

Rayvaughn Bolton of Kentwood had three 3-pointers and 13 points in the first half. Strong, right?

Well, that was nothing compared to Cranston’s half.

The Washington Interscholastic Basketball Coaches Association named Cranston the Class 4A state player of the year last week. Then members of the media voted Cranston the MVP of the state tournament. Because of things like he did the first half Saturday night in the championship.

Cranston went 6 for 7 from the floor, including 4 of 5 from 3-point range, and lit up the Conquerors for 20 points.

There was a buzz throughout the dome. About the game itself. About Cranston’s performance.

But after a long halftime — for television purposes — the Titans went cold and the Conquerors got even hotter.

Union coach Blake Conley credited Kentwood for the defensive adjustments. Cranston had no room the maneuver in the second half. Kentwood’s Darius Lubom took over defensively, but he also had a lot of help as the Conquerors double- and triple-teamed Cranston.

Conley also seemed shocked that the Conquerors shot the ball as well as they did in the second half.

He was not trying to put down the Conquerors. He just knows, as a coach, if a team shoots 56 percent in the first half, that team usually comes back down to earth a little in the second half. Kentwood ended up shooting 58 percent in the second half.

Lubom, perhaps energized by his defensive performance, turned it up on the other end of the court, as well, with 12 of his 18 points in the final two quarters.

The 10th tie of the game came when Tyler Combs buried a 3-pointer to make it 42-42 with six minutes left in the third quarter. So with 14 more minutes of game play left, there was no indication of what was about to happen: A Kentwood runaway.

The Conquerors scored the next nine points, and after a Union basket by Kai Gamble, Eli’sha Sheppard responded with a three-point play to make it 54-44.

The lead grew to 13 at the end of the quarter, and Koby Huerta buried a 3-pointer to open the fourth, giving Kentwood a 16-point lead.

A couple minutes later, it would have taken a sports miracle for the Titans to win. That did not happen.

Instead, Kentwood celebrated and the Titans accepted their second-place trophy.

“It hurts right now because we were so close,” Conley said.

He noted how tough it was in the locker room. He, too, said it was more than just the loss. It was the end of an era. There are six seniors on the team — the first group to go through the program for four years with Conley as the coach.

“This just shows how close they are,” Conley said. “They are as close of a team I have ever coached.”

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