By way of Braeden Sato's interstellar shooting range, Colby King's unwavering confidence, Reece Arenz's dynamism and a team-wide reliance in one another, Sunset boys' basketball is back in full effect.
In what was nothing short of a state-wide declaration, the Apollos not only overcame an 11-point halftime deficit against prohibitive Metro League favorite Jesuit but extended the game to triple overtime at 77-77. There, in the third extra session, gassed and grimy on their home floor, the Apollos gutted out scores and stops with their shotmakers King and Sato leading the way and pulled out a huge, statement-making 89-84 triple-overtime win over the No. 3 Crusaders on Tuesday at Sunset High School.
"It was a hell of a game," King said. "We really had to believe in each other. Sometimes we were really backed up against the wall, but we just kept fighting. These are the games you live for, so we just kept pushing."
"I had tears of joy in the locker room," Arenz said with a smile. "We just took Jesuit down...it feels amazing. Greatness is coming for us."
Maybe you smirked and snarked when the Apollos proclaimed themselves as one of the Metro League's best, back in early December before conference even commenced. But to be 3-0 in Metro, the last of the league unbeatens after taking down what many considered the early runaway front runner in Jesuit, what can you say now? Sunset is legit, folks, and backed up its confidence on the big stage against the league's eternal touchstone. Sato (30 points) and King (27 points) combined for 57 points including 10 of the Apollos' 12 in the third overtime. That junior tandem could be the best one-two punch in the conference, guiding a group of ambitious Apollos that just might be getting started.
"We're the best team in Metro and we're at the top now, so somebody's gotta come beat us," King said. "We still have a lot to learn from this game. We have to take it game-by-game from here on out and take nothing for granted."
"This opens doors for us," Sato said. "Now we should be thinking about being top-eight in state, getting to the Chiles Center (for the state tournament), winning Metro. We just have to work hard and continue this."
Jesuit certainly showed signs of why it was so highly regarded coming into the game. Senior Justin Bieker is easily the most improved player in Metro. Sunset couldn't contain the southpaw off the dribble as the lefty had 23 points. Senior sharpshooter Aiden Williams buried five threes en route to a team-high 24 points. Will Spitznagel (13 points) continued to show well as an outside shooter and Braden Rice was a handful on the offensive boards. Trailing Sunset 68-66 in the fourth, Williams missed a three from the left wing, but Rice cleaned up the miss that fell right in his lap and calmly banked home the putback to tie it up 68-68 with 1.8 seconds to go. That putback triggered the first of three all-out overtime periods. The Crusaders, however, gave Sunset multiple opportunities to hang around, be it turnovers, missed free throws, untimely technical fouls for swinging on the rim after missed dunks and uncharacteristic mistakes while protecting leads down the stretch. Credit Sunset, however. The Apollos had a different sort of hunger in their eyes and never let sour circumstances dissuade them.
"We stayed in the game no matter what," Sato said. "We kept our heads up. When Jesuit went on a run, we stayed in it and I'm just so happy we did. Our name should be out there now. Teams should be scared of us, honestly. If they think otherwise they should watch this game and see for themselves."
It was Sunset's first win over Jesuit since 2014 which just so happens to be the last time the Apollos won a Metro championship. That team was deep, skilled and experienced at every position. This group is still relatively green, but they're absolute hoopers who love the game with guys like Arenz whose unwavering effort and defensive tenacity help turn a 12-point third quarter deficit down to a single point heading into the fourth.
"I have to bring the energy every night," Arenz said. "That's what I'm here for. That's how I got the position I'm in today."
Arenz also chipped in 11 points, including two huge threes in the second half. But it was Arenz's assertiveness on defense, deflecting passes, taking charges, saving balls from going out of bounds, that brought Sunset back from the brink.
"We started to believe," King said. "We don't win that game without (Arenz's) stretch of plays right there."
With Will Reese saddled with foul trouble, senior post Tristan Rainbolt pulled down some huge defensive boards and banked home a pivotal pick-and-roll pass from Arenz to give Sunset a 79-77 lead in the third overtime. Sam Muhlheim, Joey Kelton and Elijah Vernon all made key plays throughout the game, particularly when it felt as if Jesuit could pull away in the second half.
"Other teams are going to be worried about us now," Arenz said. "We have to keep moving forward from here on out."
There were huge shots by the truckload on both sides. No two baskets, however, were bigger than the ones Sato and King sank, first in the second overtime, then in the third and final extra session. Jesuit led 77-74 in the second overtime after Bieker missed the first of two free throws, leaving the door slightly ajar for the Apollos. Sunset put the ball in the hands of their first-team all Metro guard Sato, who rather than call for a ball screen which Jesuit would've blitzed with a double team, slowly dribbled across the timeline, pulled up from the Sunset logo at mid-court and splashed the game-tying 35-foot three with 0.6 seconds to even it up 77-77. The Crusaders' subsequent heave fell short. All that was missing from Sato's Steph Curry-like bomb was a subsequent shimmy and shake as the game wore onto triple overtime.
"All summer I worked on my deep range shots and I knew that was the time," Sato said. "If I came off a screen, I knew I wouldn't get a good shot I knew Jesuit wanted to get the ball out of my hands. So I just said 'Why not?'. I let it rip and it went in. I was so hyped, it felt so good. It was the best shot of my career."
"There was no way we could lose after that shot," King said
It wasn't the first clutch shot Sato made either. In the first overtime, after the Apollos didn't score for the first 3:50 of overtime, Sato brought the ball up the floor, crossed over from right to left, got a half step on Jesuit's Will Sheaffer and spun home a righty finger roll to tie it 70-70 to force the second extra session.
Sato kept Sunset's surge alive with a tough contested pull-up jumper from the elbow to give the Apollos an 81-79 edge in the third overtime. Then, it was King's turn to play hero. Rainbolt brought down a big defensive board and outletted the ball to King, who traversed through a Crusader trap in the backcourt, nearly traveled in the process, and pushed the ball across the mid-court stripe along the right wing. Suddenly, as King came to jump stop and pivoted around looking for an open teammate, the Crusader defense abandoned the Apollo wing, leaving him all alone just outside the three-point line. Undeterred and at ease after a stellar game to that point, King squared himself to the rim, flicked the long uncontested jumper and buried it to extend Sunset's lead to 84-79 with 2:05 to go.
"I was ready to make that shot," King said. "I knew it was going in right when I shot it. That was the shot I was waiting for. I knew I had that kind of game in me. I just took what the defense gave me."
It wasn't a dagger, yet. Gene Potter-coached teams are nearly impossible to kill. The Crusaders kept coming back with new life. Jesuit senior Matthew Levis launched a right-wing three that found cotton and brought the Crusaders within 87-82 with 24.9 seconds left. Later Sunset turned the ball over and Bieker swished two free throws to cut the Apollos' lead to 87-84 with 6.8 seconds to go.
But this time, Sato slammed the door shut, calmly flicking home two free throws to push Sunset's advantage out to 89-84, a lead that held up as the buzzer sounded and the Apollo student section rushed the floor, exuberant and celebratory, reveling in their team's biggest win since the '14 state tournament.
Tuesday was Sato's first game back since injuring his left ankle against Camas 11 days ago. And while the explosive junior scorer was winded at times, his teammates and the adrenaline of knocking off the third-ranked team in the state carried him.
No. 12 Sunset is now 11-4 overall and 3-0 in Metro with a home date against Westview on Friday. Jesuit is 2-1 in Metro, 10-5 overall and No. 4 in 6A.
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