Pirates bring home the loot

The team, lead by team manager Christian
The team, lead by team manager Christian 'A.C.' Hasson, parades through town Sunday afternoon.
— image credit: Elizabeth Shepherd

Vashon’s boys basketball team received a hero’s welcome when they returned to the Rock on Sunday — and with good reason.

After an exhausting weekend in Yakima, the Pirates brought home the hardware they’d been dreaming of, the gleaming basketball trophy signifying they’re the best 1A team in the state.

They earned their golden globe on Saturday by trouncing King’s High School 49-24 — a gaping margin that has only been surpassed a handful of times in the state tournament’s 52 years.

When the athletes arrived in town, there were more than 100 Islanders lining the streets to welcome them home. The fire department’s ladder truck led the Pirates in a foot parade through town, where the boys showcased their newly earned trophy and “State Champions 2009” T-shirts. It was a spontaneous and festive recognition of the Island’s golden boys.

The victors have been the talk of the town the past few days, from the checkstands at Thriftway to the lanes of the Vashon Athletic Club pool to the airwaves of Voice of Vashon. Parents, students and players all seemed to be bursting with pride at the team’s remarkable achievement — the first state championship for a Vashon High School athletic team, as far back as anyone can remember.

The team kept the pressure on the King’s Knights all game, succeeding in “suffocating” their opponents offense, according to parent Charlie Pieterick, and dumping in basket after basket.

“It was truly a season to remember and to celebrate,” Pieterick said.

Ed Babcock, 87, was born and raised on the Island, and he said this is the only state title he can recall. He should know: He’s been “a good spectator” of Pirate sports since he attended the high school in the 1940s.

“Kids in those days could be proud of the name Vashon, and they can again today,” he said.

The Pirates prepared for months for what everyone hoped was inevitable: a tough battle to the top in the Yakima SunDome against some of the state’s other best teams.

Ranked first among 1A schools all season, the Pirates had a target on their back, said head coach Andy Sears, which “added pressure” to all their performances.

Today, their record stands at 26-1, with their only loss to a Portland, Ore., 5A school that ended up in Oregon’s state tournament bracket.

“The expectations have been real, and to get it done is awesome,” Sears said. “To get it done in the fashion they did it is super impressive.”

Sears and others said the massive win hasn’t quite sunk in. He’s still in disbelief, he said.

“It’s one of those things you always dream about,” he said. “You dream and you hope and you work hard for it, but a little part of you is always wondering if it’ll happen.”

John Gage, a standout player in the game, echoed his coach’s sentiments. He expected to win, he said, “but there’s a huge difference between expecting to win and actually winning it.”

Gage, a junior “big man” who’s already being scouted by half a dozen high-caliber universities, racked up 20 of Vashon’s 49 points on Saturday, earning the 1A tournament’s most valuable player award in the process.

But he’s quick to shine the spotlight on his teammates, each of whom was critical to the Pirates’ success, he said.

“Everyone on our team did their job all the time, and that’s why we were able to pull out with such big victories,” Gage said.

Before playing their 9 p.m. game on Saturday, the team went out to see “Watchmen” at a Yakima theater — “just to distract ourselves a little bit,” said co-captain Max Burnham.

Their preparatory techniques obviously worked, as the team slammed to one of the most dominant final victories in state history, beating King’s by the largest margin ever seen in a final match, the Yakima Herald-Republic reported.

King’s also succeeded in scoring the fewest points in a state final game, the local paper noted.

The Pirates’ knockout performance was exciting, said senior Pirate cheerleader Kimberly Ostlie.

“I was bawling my eyes out when they won,” she said. “The energy of the crowd all game was amazing. Everybody was really excited and really proud because this is what the boys have been working for all year.”

The Pirates’ large cheering section — a Green Tide so large neither Ostlie nor Sears could estimate the size — was made bigger and wilder Saturday night when fans from other schools that had been knocked out earlier in the tournament joined the crowd, Ostlie said.

The cheerleaders for Seattle Christian — a powerhouse school in the Nisqually League — merged with the Pirates, painting their faces green and donning a bit of Pirate pride for the final game, she added.

“It feels great to share this with my teammates and community and fans,” said co-captain Thomas Timm-Skove. “We never doubted ourselves.”

What makes this win particularly sweet is that six of this year’s 11 varsity players, including Gage, will return to the court next year.

Though it’s a bit early to do so, looking ahead to next season is an exciting proposition of its own.

“Our seniors are good, and it’ll be some big holes to fill,” Sears said. “I would expect our younger guys to step up to the challenge. Next year, there’s a lot of talent there, but we’ve got to work hard and know it’s not easy to get these things done.”

Sears, an alumni of the Pirates basketball team, has been head coach for eight years — the last five of which saw his team seize the Nisqually League crown.

In 2006, the team took third at state, and last year played in the tournament but didn’t place.

They earned their victory and deserve every bit of recognition they get, he said.

“The commitment of these guys is unbelievable,” Sears said. “I can’t say that enough. They did everything we asked and more. ... I’m super proud of these guys.”

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