DeMatha Coach Mike Jones was sobbing into a white towel on the sideline. Junior guard Jahmir Young was breaking out the dance moves in the middle of a mob of DeMatha players toward the far end of the court. Junior guard Justin Moore was standing with his family and holding back tears as he FaceTimed with DeMatha alum and No. 1 pick of the 2017 NBA draft, Markelle Fultz, who told him congratulations.
Finally, it was the moment the Stags had been waiting for since 2011. Once again, No. 2 DeMatha earned the elusive Washington Catholic Athletic Conference title, beating defending WCAC champion Gonzaga, 54-53, in front of a packed house at Bender Arena.
“It feels great,” said Jones, his eyes still red from crying. “Honestly, this feels like the first one. It’s been so long since we won one, it feels like the first one. I remember when we won our first one in ’05, the first one after Coach [Morgan] Wootten, obviously, it’s just . . . I’ll never forget this. I’ll never forget these kids.”
For Moore, who scored 11 points in the win, second to sophomore Earl Timberlake’s team-high 14 points, the victory signaled the final check mark off his list after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament last January, and with him through it all was his good friend Fultz. From conversations about life and injury, Fultz was there once again Monday night on a small iPhone, giving praise to the young DeMatha star.
“He told me do what he never did, and that’s what I did,” Moore said. “Win a high school championship.”
Timberlake led the final stretch for DeMatha, scoring six points in a seven-point run for the Stags that gave them a 53-51 lead with 2:30 left to play. Timberlake then closed it out for the Stags, hitting the game-winning free throw with 1:02 remaining in the game to give the Stags a 54-53 advantage.
“My teammates kept telling me to be aggressive, and I had been struggling all playoffs, but they told me to keep playing and that’s it,” Timberlake said.
No. 3 Gonzaga, which was trying to earn its third WCAC title in the last four years, had its chances in the final minute, but a turnover with 1.8 seconds remaining in the game and a last-heave shot attempt from beyond half court fell short. Senior Allin Blunt led Gonzaga with 17 points, including 10 in the second half. Senior guard and Penn State signee Myles Dread collected 10 points.
“It’s overwhelming,” said Timberlake, who came to DeMatha last summer after transferring from Rock Creek Christian. “The legends we got there . . . we were working hard all summer. We trusted our work and we trusted our coaches.”
And for DeMatha, the future is bright. It will return all of its starters next season, with the same goal in mind.
“We’ll be back,” Moore said. “And we will get it again.”