By CHARLIE PIETERICK
For The Beachcomber
The Vashon High School boys and girls basketball teams both participated in the 1A Division State Basketball Tournament at the Yakima SunDome last week.
Both teams made it to the consolation semifinals by taking one out of three games.
The boys defeated Toledo, 55-54, on Wednesday, Feb. 27, but lost to White Swan (46-42) and Brewster (48-36) the next two days.
The girls lost to Connell, 57-40, on Wednesday, and the next two days overcame Bellevue Christian (46-44) and lost to Zillah (65-46).
It is an accomplishment to make the tournament. In the weeks leading up to it, teams across the state battle in post-season district tournaments to win one of 16 spots in each division.
The “Dome” is home to the Yakima Sun Kings, a professional Continental Basketball Association (CBA) team, and it serves too as an exhibition hall.
It is large enough to hold two full-sized basketball courts and has ample seating for the sizable crowds who come to cheer on their schools.
Boys’ and girls’ games are played simultaneously from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on the first two days, with eight games in each division.
By day three, four teams from each division had been eliminated in the “two losses and out” format.
The SunDome was just waking up as the Pirate boys filed in to take the court for the tournament’s opening game on Wednesday.
The Pirate boys, with their 20-4 record and reigning Nisqually League title, were listed among the top quartile of teams at the tournament by the Yakima Herald-Republic on the first day of the tournament.
Their first opponent, Toledo, with a 13-11 record, was considered a “dark horse”. But as Pirate coach Andy Sears said later, “Every team at this tournament is here because of their success. Their records are not that important. These are all good teams.”
Boys against Toledo (Feb. 27): Won, 55-54
Maybe it was the early hour, but 2.5 minutes into the first game, the Pirates had only managed 2 points to Toledo’s zero.
In an effort to inject some virtual “caffeine” into his team, Sears subbed in Matt Kerns and Chris Pieterick.
Pieterick, in particular, usually brings an intensity to the game that is palpable to teammates and fans alike. Before the Indians could blink an eye, he showed up under the basket and Pirate post John Gage found him for 2.
Pieterick followed that with a 3. When Justin Calhoun hit a 3 with two seconds left in the quarter, the Pirates held a 12-6 advantage.
Pirate scoring in the second period was all Calhoun and Gage. Gage benefited from a couple of nifty assists underneath from Calhoun, and Calhoun hit two shots of his own. At the half, the Pirates held a 25-21 lead.
The Pirates had an excellent third quarter, outscoring Toledo 17-10. They showed good ball movement and a varied selection of slashing drives (Pieterick and Burnham), interior passing (Pieterick to Gage to Odin Jacobovitch for 2), and a Jacobovitch back-down for 2 more. By the end of the quarter, they appeared firmly in control with a 42-31 lead.
Early in the fourth quarter, Toledo switched to a press and found what became the Pirates’ tournament Achilles’ heel.
Pirate turnovers and a sinking shot percentage allowed the Indians back in the game as they whittled the lead to 2 on a 15-4 run.
It was only by 6 for 7 foul shooting down the stretch that the Pirates survived this squeaker, 55-54.
Girls against Connell (Feb. 27): Lost, 57-40
The girls, meanwhile, played the last game of the first day at 9 p.m. They faced a tough and experienced Connell Eagles team. The Eagles were last year’s fourth place finisher and came into the tournament with a strong 17-6 record. They have a big inside presence (six players are 5’9” or over) and balanced scoring up and down the line-up.
The Pirates were first out of the gate following a 3-pointer from junior guard Zelda Porter on their first possession. Sophomore guard Kelly Costello scored twice on drives to the hoop, the second off a quick pass from Porter. When senior guard Anneli Dolmseth went inside for another two off quick Pirate ball movement, the Pirates were up 9-2 and the Eagles took a time-out.
Following the time-out, the Eagles began exploiting their interior size. With the Pirates focused on keeping the big bodies out of the paint, the Eagles unleashed a couple of 3’s to take a 12-11 lead late in the quarter. Another 3 by Porter kept the Pirates narrowly in front, 14-13, at the quarter break.
In an effort to neutralize the Eagles size, the Pirates tried more long balls in the second period. These were off the mark, however. Going inside with some success, including two driving lay-ups by Chrissy Swope and Anneli Dolmseth, the Pirates stayed with Connell. But all the bruising inside got the Pirates into foul trouble, which was to cost them later on. Connell took a 24-18 lead into the half.
Starting the third quarter, the Eagles edged their lead to 32-20. They then went went for the Pirate jugular by meeting them up-court in a defensive press.
This forced several turnovers that the Eagles exploited for points. Swope and Hill were forced to sit down in foul trouble, and reserves Kiki Means, Abby Dolmseth and Teal Siglar provided valuable minutes. When the Pirates were successful at getting the ball down-court, they were forced into poor shot selection. Things looked glum for the Pirate faithful by the end of the third quarter, with the team down 43-26.
The Pirate players did not give up on themselves, however. They continued to stay even with the Eagles but could not gain ground. The Eagles continued to pound it down low, backing down Pirate interior players who were in foul trouble and could not afford to risk fouling out.
Girls against Bellevue Christian (Feb. 28): Won, 46-44
When the Pirates faced Bellevue Christian in a loser-out game on Thursday, they had one hand tied behind their backs from the beginning.
Junior post player Swope picked up two quick fouls within the first minute. Because she had to sit out the remainder of the half, her share of the heavy lifting was picked up by seniors Liz Hill and Anneli Dolmseth and sophomore Abby Dolmseth.
The Pirates showed more offensive ball movement than during their previous night’s loss to Connell. The two teams matched up well size-wise, so the Pirates were better able to control the paint. The game stayed even throughout the first quarter which ended up in a knot at 13.
Bellevue came out in the second quarter determined to press the Pirates. This did produce some Vashon turnovers and allowed BC to gain a little ground. A Costello 3 shortly before the half closed the gap to 3 with the Pirates down, 23-20.
Swope was back in when the second half started and quickly made her mark with two straight buckets to put the Pirates back on top. A Costello 3 coming off a pick by Hill and 2 for 2 free throws by Swope put Vashon on top 28-23 at the 4:38 mark, a lead they never relinquished. By the end of the third quarter, the Pirates were up, 31-27.
Both teams battled fiercely in the fourth quarter. Swope broke away off the press but was fouled on her way to the hoop. She calmly sank both free throws.
Soon after, Anneli Dolmseth broke away with a sweeping scoop layup for 2 and followed that with a 12-foot jumper off a drive into the lane for 2 more. The Pirates appeared on a roll, and BC called a time-out to staunch the bleeding.
Coming out of the time-out, Anneli once again drove the lane. When Viking defenders stepped up to stuff her, she dished through to Swope underneath for an easy 2. Swope then put down the free throw, and the Pirates had a 9- point lead at 42-33. A short time later, Porter, responding to 2 points by BC, spun around for a 6-foot jumper to score 2 of her own. 4:30 remained on the clock.
Late Pirate turnovers and misses allowed the Vikings back in the game. When BC scored a 3 off an inbound play with 32 seconds on the clock, they pulled within one. Porter sank one of two late free-throws to preserve the Pirate 46-44 victory.
Boys against White Swan (Feb. 28): Lost, 46-42.
The boys faced the White Swan Cougars on Thursday. White Swan is a small town on the Yakima Indian Reservation, southwest of Yakima. The team is the pride of Native Americans from all around Yakima. The SunDome for them is “home court.” Fans come from on and off the reservation to pack the stands for their tournament games. They are a formidable force.
The Pirates were not without support of their own, however. The usual hard-core fans (parents, grandparents, cheerleaders and close friends) were there. But there was also a surprising number of non-related Vashon fans and a significant representation of the student body, including the Pirate band with director Mike Scott.
Southeast Washington basketball is characterized by a scrappy, aggressive style of play. The White Swan team is Native American, coming from a nearby reservation, and team is small and quick. They claw and grab with quick hands. They move their feet well and are quick to the ball on defense. with quick penetration, late dishes and an ability to athletically finish some improbable shots.
The team’s coaches had apparently scouted the Pirates the previous day, noting the problems that the Toledo press had given Vashon.
The Cougars pressed the Pirates from the start, forcing several early Pirate turnovers. Within the first minute, they had preyed on two Pirate possessions for scores. Pirate coach Andy Sears called a time-out to settle his boys down.
Out of the break, Pirate Charlie Hoffman forced a Cougar turnover when he took a charge. A short time later, freshman starter Alex Wegner took the ball to the rack and was fouled. His two made free-throws were the Pirates’ first points of the game, and the Pirates appeared to have regained some composure.
But White Swan continued to plague the Pirates with their aggressive defensive style and going up 10-4. The Pirates closed the gap to 12-9 when Matt Kerns dumped in 3 from the corner just before the quarter break.
Out of the break, Pirate Max Burnham took a charge to force another Cougar turnover. Gage then hit a baseline 8-foot jumper. Pieterick drove in and muscled up a double-pump lay-up that rolled off the rim but collected the resulting free-throws. That gave the Pirates their first lead of the game, 13-12 at 6:03 in the second quarter.
The two teams battled closely throughout the remainder of the half. The Pirates showed they could run with the Cougars when Wegner had a steal and found Calhoun down court on the fast-break for a lay-up.
Later on, Burnham took a long pass off the inbound and scored on a little runner.
But whatever the Pirates threw at White Swan, the Cougars always answered back. Their last score of the half was a 3-pointer with 10 seconds remaining, getting them to within one of the Pirates, 22-21.
White Swan upped the intensity of the press coming out of the half, going on a 6-0 run off Pirate turnovers.
When the Pirates did make it down court, they looked tentative on offense and either missed shots or made additional unforced errors.
Despite the pressure, the Pirates did not give up. Hoffman took 2 inside. Pieterick drove the lane and dished to Calhoun for another inside basket. Gage, going up against the smaller Cougars’ posts, often hanging off his arms, kicked a pass out to Pieterick for a 3.
This tied the game at 29-29.
Calhoun had another 3 to put the Pirates up again. But White Swan responded with two before the third-quarter break to get back within one, 32-31.
After three lead changes in the opening two minutes of the fourth quarter, White Swan took the lead for good.
Poor Pirate shooting plagued Vashon until late 3s by Burnham and Gage trimmed their deficit to one with only 53 seconds remaining. However, after one last turnover and a forced to foul to regain possession, the Pirates ended up losing 42-46.
Boys against Brewster (Feb. 29): Lost by 48-36.
The Brewster Bears have been in the championship game at 1-A State in the past six consecutive tournaments.
They won it all in 2003, 2004, and 2007.
While only sporting a 16-10 record coming to state this year, they were getting back a key player from a season-long injury status and were expected to do well.
While Vashon was licking its wounds from their disappointing loss to White Swan, Brewster was coming off an even narrower loss to River View (who lost the championship game to Charles Wright Academy on Saturday).
The Pirates and the Bears felt they had something to prove, though Brewster perhaps more so.
The Pirates turned the ball over several times in the opening minutes. Good defense against the Bears and a couple of hustle plays by the Pirates’ Burnham kept these mishaps from burning the Pirates badly, however.
But Brewster did push ahead on a 7-0 run before Gage hit a jumper from 12 feet and Chris Pieterick took a lead pass from Burnham for a fast break 2. Two subsequent Brewster scores were answered by a 3 from Burnham and a baseline drive with an under-the-hoop reverse lay-in by Gage to close the quarter with the Bears up by one, 10-9.
Good Pirate rebounding and defense, including Gage’s second block of the game and a strip by Odin Jacobovitch, kept Brewster from scoring early in the second period.
When they did finally score, the Pirates answered with a 3 from Pieterick to tie it at 12. Each team suffered turnovers at the hands of the other’s aggressive defense, keeping the score knotted at 14 when the half ended.
The third period was closely fought, with seven lead changes.
Both teams’ defenses continued to pressure. The Pirates again struggled with turnovers against the Brewster press, and Brewster had difficulty finding seams in the Pirate man-to-man and extended zone defenses.
Following a couple of scores by the Pirate big men Gage and Hoffman, the remainder of the third period scoring was by point guard Burnham who drove to the rim twice, once for a lay-up and another for a leaner.
The resulting 2 scores (plus an and-1 free throw) kept the Pirates in the game. The Pirates failed to score on their final possession of the period, however, and remained behind 28-25.
In the fourth quarter, Burnham picked up where he left off by slashing for a reverse. The resulting 1-point deficit was the closest the Pirates would ever get again. Having fought against the tide of too many turnovers, they appeared to run out of gas and could not mount any more charges.
The Bears slowly pulled away with their 48-36 victory in hand. Brewster eventually went on to place fourth on Saturday while the Pirate boys returned home without a placing. The Pirate boys finished their season with a 21-6 record and the Nisqually League title.
Asked tow comment on the year, the boys’ team sole senior, Justin Calhoun, said that it had been a good experience. “ Just making it to State is a huge accomplishment for us, especially after losing the players we did late in the season.” He went on to commend his teammates after having gone to battle with them at State. “I love these guys. They are like family to me.” As for advice for next season, he replies without hesitation, “Stay strong. Fix what we need to do to get better. Keep doing what we do well.”
Coach Sears gave the boys credit for getting as far as they did, especially given the emotional roller coaster of the past few weeks. “The boys are disappointed now. But in a few days, they will look back on the season with satisfaction at what they accomplished. They won a lot of games against good wteams as well as a league championship. They’ll be real proud of themselves.”
As for preparing for next year, he replies, “We need to address how to play with physicality. We will focus on the weight room, basketball fundamentals, and correcting the little things that hurt us throughout the year and at the tournament.”
Girls against Zillah (Feb. 29): Lost 65-46.
The Pirate girls faced off with the 19-7 Zillah Leopards on Thursday. Coming off their previous day’s victory over Bellevue Christian, the Pirates were confident they could extend their tournament to the trophy round. The Leopards, eighth-place finishers last year, decisively squashed Pirate hopes, however, with a 65-46 win.
Zillah featured a lot of size inside and knew how to use it. Their lead post player, Rosebud Guthrie. is a full 6-footer and backs down defenders easily. She was difficult to control the whole night.
The Pirates managed to keep up with the Leopards for most of the first quarter.
Swope, Anneli Dolmseth, and Hill battled with Guthrie in the low post. Abby Dolmseth saw early minutes off the bench to help out. With the low post well-guarded, the Leopards went to the long ball, sinking a 3 during a 7-0 run to end of the quarter ahead 21-12.
The Pirates battled back with Porter and Costello 3s to start the second quarter.
Swope then sank one of two free-throws to get the Pirates back to within 4. That was the closest they would get for the remainder of the game, however, as the Leopards resumed pounding inside and frustrated Pirates efforts on the offensive end.
The Pirates made heroic efforts to stay strong inside but got into foul trouble (both Anneli Dolmseth and Hill eventually fouled out). By half-time, the Pirates were down by 10 at 34-24.
Porter left the game early in the third quarter with an injury, and the Leopards went on a 12-0 run off a couple of fast breaks and 6 for 7 foul shooting. With only 2:30 remaining in the quarter, and down 48-27, the Pirates were in danger of being buried.
At this point, the Pirates switched to full court pressure against the Leopards. Coach Henry Porter cycled in defensive specialists Karissa Gibbons, Kiki Means and Teal Siglar to pressure the ball.
The press produced immediate results, forcing a turnover which Costello turned into two points plus the and-1. Costello later sank a 3 off an inbound pass and brought the Pirates back to a more respectable 48-33 margin to end the third quarter.
But the Pirates could not gain ground on the Leopards throughout the fourth quarter despite a 3-pointer and perfect free-throw shooting by Anneli Dolmseth.
Having lost Anneli and Hill to foul trouble, and with the game out of reach, Coach Porter substituted liberally. Pirates Lui Gue, Autumn Shotridge and Justine Stocks saw tournament action under the Dome.
Coach Porter, in assessing his team’s performance over the past season, points out the team’s and individuals’ successes.
Not only did the team have a share of the Nisqually 1A/2B title, but several members were individually recognized, including Porter as Coach of the Year. Costello and Zelda Porter were selected to the All-Nisqually first team, Swope and Hill to the second team and Anneli Dolmseth received honorable mention.
Reflecting back on this season, Porter said he is especially proud of how the girls came back against Coupeville in the bi-district tournament to get to state.
“Then coming back to score 49 points in our loss against Lynden Christian (who went 29-0 to win the state championship on Saturday) the following night showed us we could play with the best.”
He calls the girls “awesome. They are a great bunch of athletes. They came with good fundamentals. That allowed me to focus on game stuff. And we have a young core back next year, as well as younger girls coming up from McMurray, which means we will be competitive in the years to come.”