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Eagles soar to 6th place finish in state tournament

Davon+Bolton+goes+up+against+a+pack+of+Wolverines+during+the+3A+State+Tournament+game+against+Bellevue.+The+Eagles+came+up+short+but+finished+in+sixth+place.
Davon Bolton goes up against a pack of Wolverines during the 3A State Tournament game against Bellevue. The Eagles came up short but finished in sixth place.

Davon Bolton goes up against a pack of Wolverines during the 3A State Tournament game against Bellevue. The Eagles came up short but finished in sixth place.

Tina Dang

Tina Dang

Davon Bolton goes up against a pack of Wolverines during the 3A State Tournament game against Bellevue. The Eagles came up short but finished in sixth place.

Zareya Flowers, Staff reporter

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The Eagles started the 2015-16 season with some high expectations: make it to the Tacoma Dome. Having had a losing record for some time, the boys and their coaching staff were determined to turn it around. With two new transfers from Rainier Beach and a team full of motivated players, Cleveland showed the Metro League that they were in it to win it.

The Eagles promised they would shock a lot of people and make it to State. Early in the season, it was clear that the boys could compete with the best of them, starting the season with a six-game winning streak. Their first loss of the season came in a nonconference game Davis in Yakima, falling 69-56 to the Pirates.

In December, the team took first place in the Tournament of Champions, beating teams from British Columbia, Arizona and Los Angeles. The Eagles’ first big heartbreak of the season came in January, when the team lost to Eastside Catholic by just five points. They went on another five-game winning streak before going head to head with conference rival Garfield.

When the boys played the top ranked Bulldogs in January, they silenced a crowd of naysayers who predicted Cleveland would be decimated. While the score in that first meeting was 70-57, the Eagles proved they could hang with one of the toughest teams in Metro League. They would go head-to-head with Garfield three more times, losing by 12 points in their final meeting before the state tournament.

“Losing by such a close margin helped us realize how good we really are,” said senior point guard Nicholas “Nico” Buchanan.

Feeling the odds were in their favor, the Eagles were ready when it came time to face Peninsula High School in Regionals. It was a loser-out match up, so the season came down to this one game.

“We have to win, execute plays, play defense and communicate,” junior post Philip White said.

The Eagles defeated Peninsula, 75-62, earning them a spot in the State Tournament. It was the boy’s basketball team’s first appearance at State since 2004.

When asked how it felt for their season to be continuing, Charles “CJ” Elleby said, “It means a lot because our school hasn’t made it this far in a while.”

In the first round of the state tournament, the Eagles would have to go through their rival, Garfield. They went into the game full throttle and with no fear, but they came up short for the fourth time, losing 83-66. The loss sent the Eagles to the consolation bracket where the team beat Lincoln, 74-69, to advance to the fourth/sixth place game against Bellevue.

Head Coach Jerry Petty gave the reserve players some time on the floor against Lincoln so they could experience the joy of playing on the state tournament court. Freshman Rayshawn Harris scored six points.

The Bellevue battle was close and intense, coming down to the few final minutes. After a series of technical fouls, Bellevue pulled ahead. The Eagles finished the tournament in sixth place.

“I wasn’t happy with sixth place because the goal was to win state and we are way better than sixth in the state,” said sophomore post Jahleel Breland.

Though heartbroken, the Eagles brought respect back to boy’s basketball. After spending the last eight years in the shadow of the Lady Eagles, the men were able to carve their own path. They owe much of their success to the great chemistry they had this year.

“The players this year are more in sync; we’re more family than team,” said Nigel Flowers, a senior power forward.

The Eagles had two standout players this year: senior point guard Davon Bolton and sophomore Charles “CJ” Elleby. Both boys led the team in scoring, averaging 16 points per game. Other players also had breakout seasons. Junior Fahad Sharif was a beast behind the three point line, while senior Malik Abdul-Haqq, White and Breland put up solid performances all season.

A few Eagles earned accolades for their hard work. Both Elleby and Bolton were named to the All-Metro League 3rd Team. Breland and Abdul-Haqq earned Honorable Mention. Bolton was also named to the 3A All-Tournament 2nd team. Both the Metro League and The Seattle Times named Petty Coach of the Year.

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