Falcons soar past Seagulls to win Seaside Championship

It was all smiles and cheers for the South Whidbey boys basketball team after it won the Seaside Holiday Classic in Seaside, Ore. The Falcons won three straight games against Oregon high school teams to claim the tournament title.  - Photo courtesy of Joshua Neil
It was all smiles and cheers for the South Whidbey boys basketball team after it won the Seaside Holiday Classic in Seaside, Ore. The Falcons won three straight games against Oregon high school teams to claim the tournament title.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Joshua Neil

South Whidbey's boys basketball team won the eight-team Seaside Holiday Classic Championship by defeating the host school, Seaside High School, 45-32.

The Falcons rushed out to a 10-0 lead before the Seagulls scored. Seaside entered the championship game having scored 50 and 55 points in its previous two games. South Whidbey ended the first quarter 14-5 behind Seaside foul troubles, according to South Whidbey head coach Henry Pope.

Seaside surged back and brought the game within five points in the third quarter. Pope had his team execute its half-court offense and controlled the ball for 2 minutes on one possession before scoring. The Falcons went on to outscore the Seagulls 11-4 in the fourth quarter, and would have outscored Seaside 11-2 if not for a meaningless buzzer beater.

"The fourth quarter was just a master piece with team defense, ball control and execution," Pope said. "And [Seaside] had the home team, home court and, I'm not afraid to say it, home officiating."

Pope assigned senior point guard TJ Russell to defend Seaside's best player, Ian Hawksford. Russell held Hawksford to 2 points. He averaged 23 points entering the match.

"TJ just frustrated him to death," Pope said.

Newman led the Falcons offense with 23 points, including two 3-pointers, and 7-of-8 free throws.

"He was just outstanding," Pope said of his reigning Cascade Conference MVP.

Senior co-captains Ben Cary and Tyler "Chuck" Norris sparked the offense with 6 and 11 points, respectively. Norris grabbed a team-high 7 rebounds. Junior forward Zach Comfort and senior Sean George boxed out and denied Seaside's high-low post play they observed the night before the championship game. George had 6 points.

"Seaside was a physical team and my boys stepped up to the challenge," Pope said.

On the road to the championship, South Whidbey defeated La Pine 45-32 and Madras 65-58. Pope and his team entered their first game against the La Pine Hawks unaware Oregon high schools played without a shot clock. Pope called it a shock, and also noted Oregon high schools play with two officials, not the three in Washington. He credited assistant coach Ed Baran for preparing and managing the team during the trip and tournament.

"The glue that holds everything together is Ed Baran," Pope said. "The best thing I can do is say, 'Hey coach Baran, what do I do next?'"

South Whidbey was down 0-5 in the first quarter before adjusting to the lack of a shot clock and hitting shots. Newman led with 18 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals. Russell was again assigned to the opposing team's best player who averaged 31 points a game. Russell limited him to 11 points while scoring 5. Norris had 6 points and 7 boards. George added 2 points and 4 rebounds. Comfort had 5 points. Cary had his season's best scoring night with 7 points and 1 rebounds. Sam Lee also had 2 points. Senior forward Austin Bennett was subbed in for Russell and gave the Falcons quality minutes defending La Pine's best player.

In the second game for South Whidbey, the Falcons overwhelmed the Madras White Buffaloes 65-59. The Falcons used a 28-point fourth quarter offensive onslaught to take the lead and secure the win.

"That was an old-style shootout," Pope said.

Madras pushed the tempo and caught the visitors by surprise. Pope had his team use its press defense to create turnovers and turn the tide for the Falcons. Newman led South Whidbey's scoring with 35 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists and 7 steals. Yes, 7 steals, as in, he flirted with a quadruple-double. He connected on four 3-pointers and 7-of-10 free throws.

"Riley Newman was just unconscious," Pope said.

Down 36-25, Pope employed the press to get his team back in the game. The players were ready and willing to press, Pope explained. The strategy worked and South Whidbey regained the lead in the fourth quarter. George had 8 points, 6 were in the fourth quarter. Bennett grabbed five rebounds. Russell checked in against Madras' best player Bobby Ahern and kept him well below his scoring average (28) with 18 points and scored 8 points and dished out 3 assists. Norris had 7 points and 6 boards, Cary added 3 points and 2 rebounds and Comfort had 4 points and rebounds.

The team enjoyed the early winter break and "work-cation." Bennett said the team went to a local arcade and played a basketball game for hours and called it a great team-bonding experience.

"It was great," Pope said. "I got to know the boys real well."

The Falcons extended their winning streak to seven games. South Whidbey returns to action on Jan. 4 in an away game against Whidbey Island rival Coupeville. While pleased with winning the tournament in Oregon and the team's win streak, Pope knows his team's end goal.

"Our goal is to be competitive at state."

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