Falcons’ big man Comfort has big game in Friday Harbor

Henry Pope instructs South Whidbey during the Falcons
Henry Pope instructs South Whidbey during the Falcons' victory at Friday Harbor. The Falcon boys basketball team won 48-44 on Saturday.
— image credit: Scott Rasmussen / Journal of the San Juan Islands

South Whidbey slowed down and got the ball to its 6-foot-8 senior forward to win its first game, 48-44, against Friday Harbor.

The first half was a series of errors, turnovers and bad shots by both teams. In the end, Falcon senior Zach Comfort’s size and the team’s defense stopped the Wolverines.

“Basketball is a team effort, but Zach Comfort down the stretch was the man,” said Falcon head coach Henry Pope. “They didn’t have an answer for Zach.”

Friday Harbor led 23-19 at halftime. Comfort took over the Falcons’ locker room meeting and implored his teammates to pass to him in the paint to exploit the size mismatch he had. The Wolverines’ tallest player was listed at 6-foot-5.

“As a coach, I didn’t say anything,” Pope said. “Zach stepped up. He acted like a captain. He led by example.”

Comfort propelled the Falcons to victory in the second half.

South Whidbey outscored Friday Harbor 15-12 in the third quarter and 14-9 in the fourth. Comfort finished with 18 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks.

The recipe for the Falcon boys basketball team’s first win was simple for Comfort.

“We played solid throughout the game. The guards passed me the ball,” he said.

“I always feel big, but for a while in the second half they were double teaming me,” Comfort added. “In that situation, height isn’t as much of an advantage.”

Facing a size disadvantage, Friday Harbor fouled early and often.

The Falcons capitalized on an early one-and-one free throw bonus before getting to the double bonus in the fourth quarter. Falcon senior point guard Sam Lee had 12 points and freshman Mo Hamsa scored 11 and committed six turnovers as the big three for the Falcons.

“Heck, he’s a freshman. I’m not surprised there,” Pope said. “I am pleasantly pleased on what I saw.”

Turnovers and forced passes again troubled the inexperienced Falcons, who finished with 23 turnovers. As the primary ball handler, Lee had five turnovers.

Pope said he was confident in Lee learning to run the team and understood it may take a few games as Lee transitions from a backup during his previous two seasons to the starter this year.

“Sam had turnovers, but again, he’s learning to play the point guard,” Pope said.

Instead of speeding past Friday Harbor’s full-court zone-press defense, Lee slowed the offense.

Lee set the offense and the Falcons moved the ball along the perimeter before sending it to Comfort in the key.

“We started taking the ball up at a nice pace,” Comfort said. “We did a lot better on turnovers. I think we cut the number in half.”

The low score was a compromise for Pope, who used a fast-paced transition offense last year. Once he saw the Wolverines’ zone defense, he had his guards slow down, pass and move the defenders from sideline to sideline until a lane opened. On defense, the Falcons controlled the key and forced the Wolverines to shoot from the perimeter.

“I had to sacrifice points for us protecting the ball,” Pope said. “Them scoring low was good team defense. The boys limited (Friday Harbor’s) offensive rebounds. Zach and Mo were forces on the defensive end. We shut them down inside.”

“We knew if we didn’t turn the ball over a lot, we’d end up winning,” Pope added.

The first win of the season was a sweet moment for Comfort, who was limited in an earlier loss to Mount Baker last week.

“It felt good. It felt really good,” he said.

Despite recording a double-double in points and rebounds, his coaches knew Comfort could have done more.

“Again, we didn’t get him the ball as much as he, or we, would like,” Pope said. “We’ve got to be innovative on how to get Zach the ball.”Scott Rasmussen / Journal of the San Juan Islands | Falcon senior forward Zach Comfort battles for position during a free throw against Friday Harbor. He finished with 18 points and 15 rebounds and four blocks to beat the Wolverines.

Even so, Pope said winning required the team to commit to defending well.

That was a tough charge for a depleted team. Junior wings Taylor Simmons and Josh Bishop were out because of injuries.

A late start almost forced South Whidbey to miss the 7:40 p.m. ferry, but the ship waited an extra 10 minutes for the Falcons’ ride home.

South Whidbey began Cascade Conference play at Lakewood Tuesday, Dec. 6.

“I don’t know how we’re going to do,” the coach said. “I know the boys are working hard.”

Scott Rasmussen, Editor of the Journal of the San Juan Islands contributed to this story.

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