Electric home crowd powers boys basketball to victory over B-CC


Photo courtesy Xan Korman

Senior forward Hank Roll pulls up for a baseline jumper in the win over B-CC. Roll came up with timely baskets in this back-and-forth matchup.

As the dying seconds of overtime dwindled down, 500 Walter Johnson students cleared the stands and mobbed the players at centercourt. Absolute elation radiated from their faces, as their team had clinched their spot in the divisional championship round.

Fast-forward an hour and a half earlier, 10 players – all of whom had given everything they had toward their respective teams all season long – stood at centercourt to tip off the semifinal of the 4A South Division playoffs. The gym was packed; top-ranked WJ sold out 500 tickets the day of the game, and fourth-ranked B-CC had sold 300 tickets minutes before tip. Prior to the game, WJ players called it “a funeral” for B-CC, and with the game played on a Monday, it was somewhat of a surprise to see the entire WJ student section cloaked in black.

The rivalry between the schools, highlighted by a student brawl at a 2017 hockey game and a series of physical altercations between fans after a 53-51 victory at B-CC in January, generated unprecedented hype for the game. A plethora of police officers and security personnel from both schools were present to prevent any further violence.

After closing out the regular season with a 15-5 record, the most wins the team has seen in years, they are favorites for a deep playoff run. Senior point guard Spencer Mahne is well-aware of the high expectations and understands that the team must stay focused.

“We need to have strong practices, really focusing on perfecting our current scheme the best we can,” Mahne said.

As the referee tossed the ball up to start the game, a deafening roar from the WJ section silenced a defiant B-CC section. Students from both schools knew that for their team to win, the crowd would need to play a large role.

WJ built an early lead, scoring the first 12 points of the game. However, B-CC, through star guard Elijah Wood, managed to tie the game back up by the end of the first quarter. Wood, a four-star recruit who committed to Tulane University in January, was showered all game long with “overrated” chants from WJ students, yet scored a team-high 15 points.

WJ bounced back in the second quarter, outscoring B-CC 15-5 to take a 27-17 lead into halftime. Sophomore breakout star Phillip Stubin paced the Wildcats with eight points in the first half, and with the game firmly in WJ’s control, black-clad students controlled the charged atmosphere. A strong start to the second half gave WJ a 38-21 lead. However, a B-CC run late in the third quarter got them back into the game.

“I feel like we got a little too comfortable with our lead and they slowly started to come back,” junior forward Bealu Bezabeh said.

As B-CC got back into the game, so did the travelling fans. The high-octane atmosphere in the WJ section became filled with nervous energy as the Barons seemed to come up with every loose ball. WJ’s once-lethal offense had stagnated, with ball-movement seemingly stopping altogether. With less than two minutes to play, B-CC drained a close jumpshot for their first lead of the game, 49-48.

Senior guard Spencer Mahne answered with a tough layup to retake the lead with 45 seconds to play. Stubin then sank a pair of clutch free throws to push WJ’s lead to three with four seconds to play. At this point, B-CC needed a miracle. And backup guard Tyler Groom provided it. Groom picked up the ball at halfcourt and launched a prayer at the buzzer that sank nothing-but-net. While the B-CC fans erupted in raucous applause, a ghastly silence washed over the shell-shocked WJ fans.

In overtime, the teams went back-and-forth. Leading by two with 30 seconds remaining, Stubin was fouled and drained two more free throws to seal the win.

Overall, the team’s performance truly encapsulated the season as a whole. A surprisingly strong start was followed by a couple lapses in concentration as the season progressed, but the team was fueled by a relentless student section all season long. The most mentally demanding game of the season belonged to the Wildcats, who earned a birth in the divisional finals at home against Whitman on Wednesday, March 6.