By CHARLIE PIETERICK
The Vashon Pirates boys’ basketball team secured a spot in the 16-team state 1A boys basketball tournament last week by winning two out of three games in the Bi-District tournament held at Mountlake Terrace High School.
The team defeated Meridian and Kings and lost to Charles Wright.
The Pirates defeated the Meridian Trojans 41-39 in their opening game at bi-district last Wednesday. Meridian bounced the Pirates out of bi-districts last year and went on to place sixth in Yakima.
Vashon scored quickly to open the game with a 3-pointer by freshman Alex Wegner who was making only his second start of the season. The Pirates followed that with success in getting the ball to post player John Gage. Gage hurt the Trojans inside, outside (two from 3 point range) and from the line (perfect 2 for 2) early-on. By the first quarter break, the Pirates were up 15-8.
In the second quarter, Meridian forced the Pirates to the perimeter where they only connected on one of seven 3-point attempts.
Meanwhile, Meridian penetrated inside Vashon’s man-to-man coverage on the back of Andrei Lintz, a 6 foot 5 inch, 220-pound football prospect headed for Washington State University.
Lintz seemed able to back down any Pirate defender at will to clear a path to the hoop. He ended up with 15 first-half points as his Trojans took a 19-17 half-time lead into the locker room.
The two teams battled closely through four lead changes in the third quarter. Max Burnham took time out from his usual occupation of efficiently running the offense to drill in two threes. This was followed with another three by Charlie Hoffman to regain the lead at 27-26. But by the end of the quarter, the Trojans were back up 29-26.
Pirate defensive pressure was the deciding factor in the remainder of the game.
Vashon forced several Meridian turnovers. With 2:30 left in the game and Vashon still down by 3, Lintz made one more move to the basket, probably thinking he would have his way once again. But Wegner stood his ground, drew the charge, and forced a critical Trojan turnover. Soon after, Burnham hit his fifth and final three, tying the game at 37.
On the next Trojan possession, Chris Pieterick chased down a long rebound and charged hard down the court. Tripped up by a Trojan defender, he managed to come up with the resulting loose ball and feed it to a trailing Burnham for 2. This gave the Pirates the lead for good. Gage iced the game in the final seconds with more 2 for 2 from the line and a final 41-39 score.
On Friday, the Pirates won an improbable last second 58-56 victory against the 1A top-rated Kings Knights on Friday.
With the Pirates having trailed the whole game, sophomore John Gage hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key as time expired, sending Pirate fans into surprised ecstasy and jubilation. The win guaranteed the Pirates a spot at state.
The Knights preyed on Vashon in the first quarter, stealing balls and converting them into fast-break points. They were up 17-6 before Justin Calhoun’s 3 to end the quarter restored a modicum of momentum back to the Pirates.
Wegner took the Pirates’ first possession of the second quarter into the lane, scoring on a leaner off the glass for two. A scary 10-0 Knight run, however, mired the Pirates back down in a 16 point deficit. At that point, a Burnham 3-pointer ignited an 11-4 Pirate run to restore a more manageable 31-22 deficit at the half.
The two teams stood toe-to-toe, slugging it out in the third. It was at this point that Pirate players report realizing they could play with this elite perennial powerhouse. Pirate fans, however, were too busy fretting the 44-36 quarter break margin to notice this change in Pirate psyche.
Wegner started out the fourth quarter showing the same aggressiveness with which he started out the second. He was fouled on his first drive, completing a free-throw, then attacked again for 2.
When Calhoun hit another 3 with 6:43 still on the clock, the Knight lead was slashed to 3. Meanwhile, the Pirate defense raised the decibel level on their efforts to pressure the ball. Using a half court trap, they forced Kings turnovers.
As the clock wound down just below the two minute mark, Hoffman (Pirate high scorer with 14) suddenly went on the offensive, dumping in a little baseline jumper and, soon after, driving baseline to the rack. Missing the hoop on this contested lay-up, he grabbed his own rebound and put it back to tie the score at 50 with 1:20 remaining.
At this point, the Knights stalled for one last shot. The Pirates stayed disciplined, neither fouling nor allowing the cheap shot. This sent the game into overtime.
In overtime, Kings scored first to take a 54-50 lead. When Hoffman once again drove the baseline for 2, and Calhoun hit another 3 at 28.3 seconds remaining, the Pirates were back to within one at 55-56. To avoid letting the Knights run out the clock, the Pirates began fouling to gain possession.
The Knights failed to convert on two successive trips to the line. Following the second miss, Vashon regained possession with only 11 seconds remaining. Racing up court with the rebounded ball, Burnham entered the lane. As Knight defenders collapsed on him, he kicked the ball out to Gage, who had drifted to the top of the circle, setting up the game-winning 3. The emotion on the two sides of the court could not have been further apart as shell-shocked Knight fans stood slack-jawed in disbelief, and Pirate fans erupted in exuberant pandemonium.
On Saturday, the Pirates fell to the Charles Wright Academy Tarriers, a Nisqually League rival, 47-38 in the bi-district tournament championship game. The Tarriers out-rebounded the taller Pirates and used their muscle and skill to get shots up and under the interior Pirate defenders.
The Pirates were spirited and competitive to start out. After building an 8-1 lead early in the first quarter, the Pirates watched the Tarriers chip away and finally catch them at the half, 23-23.
While the two teams battled even in the third period, the Pirates appeared to run out of gas in the fourth, possibly a result of their emotional win the night before.
Down by as much as 8 points in the closing minutes, the Pirates whittled the Tarrier lead back to 4. Forced to foul during the final minute, the Pirates watched as the Tarriers converted their free throws to keep the game out of Pirate reach.
— Charlie Pieterick is a basketball dad.