By CHARLIE PIETERICK
The Vashon Pirate boys’ basketball team stumbled last week in splitting their final two league games, but the win against Orting on Tuesday meant they were Nisqually League champs for the fourth year in a row.
On Monday, four members left the team after violating the team code. This put the team on an emotional roller coaster that threatens to derail their goal of reaching the state tournament in Yakima later this month.
It was senior night on the next night, Tuesday, when the Pirates hosted the Orting Cardinals.
They took the occasion to celebrate their lone senior, Justin Calhoun. Teammate Max Burnham cited Calhoun for assuming a leadership role, particularly with the younger Pirates. “He is fundamentally solid and a great model both on and off the court,” Burnham said.
Against Orting, Vashon quickly sprinted out to a 14-8 lead. Sophomore post player John Gage absolutely owned the paint. The Cardinals could not contain him.
Other Pirates joined the feeding frenzy. Odin Jacobovitch, recently back from a prolonged injury, chipped in a nice drop-step 2-pointer after backing down his man inside.
Elias Weston banged in a buzzer-beating 3 off a drive-and-kick-out from Burnham. Burnham later followed that up by rebounding and putting back his own slick but errant baseline lay-in attempt.
Despite this often brilliant offensive play, the Pirates broke down defensively, allowing Orting to close the half on an 8-2 run and come within two points, with Vashon leading 26-24.
The third quarter started out with another Burnham assist, this time to Chris Pieterick underneath.
Burnham then showed his own shooting prowess when he lofted a floating teardrop for 2 off a fast break. But the Cardinals did not go away and managed to stay within a point by the start of the fourth quarter.
Apparently upset that they let the Cardinals hang around for three quarters, the Pirates kicked it into gear in the fourth.
Gage continued to do the heavy lifting inside while Calhoun delivered two daggers from beyond the arc. Slashing lay-ups by Burnham and Pieterick finished out the Pirate scoring.
At Charles Wright Academy on Friday, the Pirates took on a talented Tarrier team that had not yet realized their pre-season potential.
The Tarriers clearly looked to garner some respect by knocking off the newly crowned league champs. The first half was an intense and closely fought battle. Two 3-pointers by mainmast Gage and offensive putbacks by mizzen-mast Charlie Hoffman gave the Pirates a 1-2 offensive punch.
A slashing drive by Burnham and no-look assist by Pieterick to Hoffman for 2 completed the Pirate first half scoring with Vashon down by one, 23-22.
The Pirates came out of the half stone cold. Even free throws clanked sideways off the rim. The Tarriers bullied the Pirates in pursuit of boards and loose balls. They then took advantage of these extra possessions to go on an opening 13-0 run.
Calhoun scored all three of the Pirate’s third quarter points in one stroke, when he nailed a 3-pointer as the quarter expired. The Pirates had dug a 36-25 hole.
Vashon continued to grope desperately for the basket in the fourth quarter. Brilliant defensive steals were negated by sure-bet lay-ins lipping off the rim. Multiple open-look 3-point attempts wandered astray. The Pirates did manage to close to within 6, when Pieterick stole a Tarrier inbound pass and converted it for a quick score with 1:32 remaining.
But those proved to be the final Pirate points in a disappointing 47-38 loss.
In assessing the boys’ efforts for the week, coach Andy Sears pointed to the emotions the boys are going through in adjusting to the loss of their former teammates.
“I’m aware that this week’s events have taken a tremendous toll on me. More than I would have thought, even. So it has to be affecting them,” Sears said. Sears said he sees a learning process happening as the boys explore the shape of their new roles on the team.
As evidence of this, he cites a more aggressive Charlie Hoffman taking the ball to the hole and the poise of freshman Alex Wegner, who saw additional minutes on Friday. “Alex did really well. They pressured him and he didn’t back down,” Sears said.
Sears also praised the defensive efforts of Burnham and Pieterick in holding the Tarrier lead scorers, Patrick Philley and Gerald Hill, to well below their season averages.
The boys will have a week to regroup before facing Seattle Christian on Saturday, Feb. 16. to determine seeding into the bi-district tournament the following week. The game takes place at 5 p.m. in the Seattle Christian gym.
— Charlie Pieterick is a basketball dad.