Pirates overpower Chelan in tight game

Max Burnham broke the score open with fast breaks in the fourth on Monday. - Bill Gage photo
Max Burnham broke the score open with fast breaks in the fourth on Monday.
— image credit: Bill Gage photo


For The Beachcomber

The Vashon High School Pirate boys’ basketball team notched an important win in Yakima on Monday against the ninth-ranked Chelan Goats 47-39.

And on Friday, Jan. 16, they dominated the Life Christian Eagles 54-24 in front of an enthusiastic Pirate home crowd.

In Yakima, the Pirates participated in the SunDome Showdown, a Martin Luther King Jr. Day showcase for select Washington 1A teams.

The 11-1 Pirates were paired against the 8-2 Goats in the 9 a.m. opening game.

The morning frost was still coating the Yakima Valley sage as both teams filed into the SunDome, better known as the home of the annual 1A state basketball tournament.

The cold temperatures had soaked into the cavernous auditorium overnight, shivering the timbers of the Pirate faithful who made the trip.

Besides featuring two ranked 1A teams, the game also featured Vashon post player John Gage and his off-season AAU teammate Joey Harris, a lanky shooting guard from Chelan. Both are NCAA Division I recruits, and the sparse crowd was peppered with college recruiters eager to get a close-up look at the two boys in action.

Defensively, Chelan used a “packed zone” defense, with a physically punishing inside presence, to keep the ball out of the middle where Gage does most of his damage.

The Pirates pressured Chelan up the court and played an extended zone, in an effort to push the hot-shooting Harris out of range.

Despite Pirate efforts, Harris served a combination of sweet pull-up jumpers and quick-release 3s off screens and dribbles to lead all scorers with 26 points.

Gage, while caged in down low, managed to score 12.

More importantly, he gathered in a passel of rebounds and dished out a number of assists as Chelan defenders collapsed around him.

The Pirates got out to a quick start, running the court and out-rebounding Chelan for second and third shot attempts.

Vashon missed an early chance to spread its lead, though, by failing to score on several occasions.

But the Goats’ physical game did get Harris and his teammate point guard, Julio Juarez, into early foul trouble, forcing them to sit out some of the quarter.

Pirate junior Matt Kerns made an early impact when he came in off the bench late in the quarter to sink a downtown 3, giving the Pirates a 15-8 lead at the end of the quarter.

The Goats continued their physical game into the second quarter. Unfortunately, the Pirates failed to take advantage of the resulting free throws, missing the front end of three bonus opportunities.

The Goats took advantage of this to close the point gap, leaving the Pirates clinging to a slender 22-20 at the half.

Pirate misses and turnovers, followed by more Harris magic, allowed Chelan to pass the Pirates 24-22 at the quarter’s midpoint.

Chelan then tried to stall in order to slow down the Pirate attack.

A seesaw battle ensued throughout the remainder of the quarter.

It took the Pirates sinking five of the six free throws, and Harris sitting down with four fouls, to preserve a razor-thin 29-28 edge by the end of the third quarter.

Pirate Coach Andy Sears could be heard exhorting his team during a timeout, “We can’t win if we turn the ball over!”

Later, he urged his players to “go after” Harris, to either force him to sag defensively or foul out.

Even while Harris was sitting down in foul trouble, Kerns took his coach’s words to heart. He came out of the quarter break and attacked the basket. Fouled by one of Harris’ teammates, he sunk both free throws.

Gage followed that up with a quick 2. Meanwhile, the Pirates picked up their defense, forcing several Chelan turnovers.

With the Goats down 33-28, and sensing the game getting away from them, Chelan coach Joe Harris (Joey’s father) got his son back into the game.

But the Pirates had unfurled their main by then.

They forced the tempo and moved Gage out from underneath, where he was able to distribute the ball, including a quick pass to Kerns underneath for 2. Kerns then got out on the fast break to take a pass from Max Burnham for another 2 that completed a 10-2 Vashon run.

Pirate defensive pressure, ball control and seven of 10 free throw shooting down the stretch allowed Vashon to seal a 47-39 win.

Interviewed at the SunDome after the game, Sears noted that it was a “really physical game.”

“It’s definitely officiated a little bit differently over here (eastern Washington),” he added. “We also didn’t get our transition game going. We didn’t get any easy baskets up and down, which really hurt us.”

But he called the experience of playing physical basketball against a quality team in the cavernous SunDome “just part of our journey” together as a team.

Sears singled out the great fourth quarter play of the Pirates, particularly the contribution of Matt Kerns in jacking up the offensive and defensive intensity.

“It’s always good to play your best ball late,” he said over his shoulder with a smile as he joined his team for the trip home.

—Charlie Pieterick is the father of Pirate Chris Pieterick.


Hoopfest, an annual fundraiser for Island youth basketball programs, takes place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 31, at the Vashon High School gym. There will be a full slate of youth basketball contests between Vashon Island Junior Basketball third- through sixth-grade teams. There will be other games, prizes and food.

Proceeds benefit the Vashon Hoopsters, a nonprofit that supports equipment purchases and scholarships for Island youth basketball programs.

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