Falcon boys finish third at Seaside basketball tournament

Falcon senior point guard Sam Lee brings the ball to the top of the key against Central Linn on Saturday.  - Carl Comfort photo
Falcon senior point guard Sam Lee brings the ball to the top of the key against Central Linn on Saturday.
— image credit: Carl Comfort photo

A road trip could not have been much better for the South Whidbey boys basketball team.

After starting with a 1-4 overall record, Falcon head coach Henry Pope said he needed more from his team.

“I used this trip as a little get away,” Pope said. “The way these boys played, I’ve got 10 boys who want to play in 2012.”

Pope wanted more passion — to see which of his players had desire and hustle.

The Falcons’ second trip to the Seaside Holiday Classic basketball tournament yielded high returns in wins and changed attitudes. Pope challenged the Falcons to define themselves and the team’s identity during the tournament, and questioned their toughness. Their response was exactly what he wanted to see.

“Man, they showed up,” Pope said. “They played the toughest, most aggressive games I’ve seen all year.”

South Whidbey finished 2-1, playing three games in three days.

The Falcons also had Zach Comfort, scoring 47 points through the tourney, voted to the all-tournament team.

“Zach was the man,” Pope said. “He could not be stopped. I thought he was MVP.”

The Falcons also had sophomore forward Nick French named to the honorable mention all-defense team.

“That was a crock,” Pope said. “He played against some good scorers and kept them under their average.”

South Whidbey won its first game 39-32 against La Pine.

The tournament, played in Oregon, was without a shot clock. That limited the amount of possessions for South Whidbey as it adjusted to the sluggish pace of the game.

“It was kind of slow,” Pope said.

“We really took our time getting good looks.”

Prepared for the pace, the Falcons grinded down the clock by passing to Comfort in the paint.

South Whidbey took an early 10-4 lead. Comfort was key in that plan, tying senior point guard Sam Lee with 10 points a piece to lead the Falcons.

“Zach Comfort was just a beast,” Pope said. “We got Zach the ball a lot inside.”

Maintaining quality possessions, free of errors, still proved elusive for South Whidbey. The La Pine Hawks rallied in the second quarter to trail 18-13 at halftime.

Lee guided South Whidbey in the third quarter, scoring six of his 10 points in the period. La Pine stayed close to the lead with 5-of-7 free-throw shooting.

The Hawks used a press defense to stymie the Falcons and force either a great play or a mistake.  South Whidbey kept La Pine at bay in the fourth quarter, despite a poor free-throw percentage.

The Falcons advanced in the winner’s bracket to face the White Buffalos of Madras in the second game.

Madras, a school of almost 900 students struggled against South Whidbey, with about 480 students, but won, 59-44.

The White Buffalos used speed to their advantage to counter the Falcons’ size. At the end of the first quarter, the Falcons trailed 15-14.

“They were a quick team,” Pope said. “They took long shots, and long shots have long rebounds.”

Despite the Falcons’ size with 6-foot-8 Comfort, 6-foot-1 Nick French and 6-foot-4 Mo Hamsa, the White Buffalos secured offensive rebounds. Madras had a decidedly favorable free-throw advantage over South Whidbey — 20 attempts to the Falcons’ two.

South Whidbey led in the second quarter with about 1 minute to play before halftime. Turnovers against proved costly as Madras scored six points to take a 30-25 lead.

“We missed a golden opportunity to take the lead,” Pope said.

Madras kept its lead at five points in the third quarter, 44-39.

Free-throw shooting iced the game as the White Buffalos made 9-of-10 in the fourth quarter.

Comfort led the Falcons with 15 points, 11 rebounds and five blocked shots. Lee added 10 points, junior guard Josh Bishop scored six; French had five; juniors Sam Turpin and Taylor Simmons each scored two; Hamsa had two; and junior Andrew Holt finished with four.

The loss bumped South Whidbey to the consolation round against Central Linn, a much smaller school. The third-place game proved to be the thriller, as the Falcons beat the Cobras 66-61 in overtime.

Pope continued his theme of change in Game Three as he used an entirely different lineup. He started backup point guard Guy Sparkman, Turpin, Holt, French and Hamsa. It worked.

South Whidbey had a seven-point run to open the game, and led 15-5.

Mistakes made their mark against the Falcons, however, and the Cobras struck back to trail 17-13 at the end of the first quarter.

The regular starters returned in the second quarter. Poor free-throw shooting (11-of-25) limited the Falcons’ scoring, though they still led 35-23 at halftime.

Central Linn surged in the fourth quarter. Comfort fouled out, allowing the Cobras to attack the paint and slowly chip at the Falcons’ lead. On the sideline, Comfort watched his team struggle to score or stop the Cobras.

The Cobras shot 12 free throws and the Falcons failed to close the game, forcing overtime.

In bonus time, French scored five points, Hamsa got a putback and Lee made two free throws to beat Central Linn and claim third place.

“I was so impressed to see Nick play like that,” Comfort said. “Sam Lee also clutched up and hit his free throws.”

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