Falcon boys hoops ‘embarrassed’ by loss to Lynden Lions

Falcon head coach Henry Pope speaks to his players during practice this month.  - Ben Watanabe / Record file
Falcon head coach Henry Pope speaks to his players during practice this month.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / Record file

No one can remember the last time a South Whidbey boys basketball team played in a game with a running clock.

After the Falcons’ 64-18 loss to the Lynden Lions on Tuesday, no one will soon forget.

South Whidbey trailed 45-8 at halftime. By the third quarter, the referees asked Falcon head coach Henry Pope if he would accept a running clock, a high school mercy rule.

“I don’t know if it’s legal. I don’t know if WIAA has a mercy rule. But when the referees asked if we wanted to, I jumped at the opportunity,” Pope said.

“If they didn’t, Lynden would have scored 100 points.”

That only helped the Falcons get out of Lynden sooner, but no less bruised and embarrassed. The Lions entered the match undefeated at 5-0, and outscored their previous opponents by an average of 28 points.

In the first half, Lynden quickly gained a large lead, 25-2. Defensive pressure from the Lions forced more than 20 turnovers by the Falcons, who didn’t have a scorer with more than three points.

“They really did a good job of pressuring the ball, wherever it was on the floor,” said Falcon senior point guard Sam Lee, who finished with three points. “They also were really aggressive.”

South Whidbey failed defensively, Pope said. The Falcons didn’t hedge screens, call out screens on their teammates, bump the cutter or move across the baseline for weak-side help.

“We were outplayed, out-hustled, out-thought, out-basketballed, out-coached,” Pope said. “We were out-everything: outshot, out-coached, out-everything.”

“We were so overwhelmed.”

The second quarter was a marginal improvement. South Whidbey scored six points, but was outpaced by Lynden with 20 points.

Previous lopsided losses saw the Falcons rely on their 6-foot-8 senior forward Zach Comfort. There was little consolation in trying to get Comfort the ball, as the Lions stole and deflected the Falcons’ passes inside, double- and triple-teamed him, bumped him and challenged the low post.

Comfort finished with his worst scoring total of the season — three points. Lynden was led by Nate Wielenga with 18 points.

“They play physical. The referees allow a more physical game in the Northwest Conference than the refs do in the Cascade Conference,” Pope said. “Once you get beat up like that for two quarters, you get tired.”

Defensively, Comfort used his size and position to take away the interior lanes with blocks and sheer size. That was fine with Lynden, which shot a barrage of three-pointers well away from Comfort. The Lions made seven threes; the Falcons made one.

“They’re very good shooting the three,” Pope said. “Then again, they were wide open threes.”

The 37-point difference at halftime took the young Falcon team out of the game mentally and emotionally. Damage may have already been done, as some Falcons admitted they expected to lose.

“Once we were down, we kind of let it get away from us,” Lee said.

“After the first quarter, we kind of checked out. We got dunked on a couple of times, and that kind of took the wind out of our sails.”

South Whidbey’s locker room at halftime was quiet. Pope and assistant coach Ed Baran gave no inspired halftime speeches. Neither of the co-captains, Lee and Comfort, stood up and challenged their teammates.

Instead, Pope reminded them that they went over Lynden’s tendencies in practice, to box out on defense, to rebound, to hustle and to defend screens.

“What else can you say? They did not do a single one right,” Pope said. “It’s not like they weren’t trying. Without proper positioning, without smarts, your hard work is for naught.”

Lynden’s scoring show slowed down in the third quarter to 16 points. Three minutes into the period, the referees enacted the mercy rule and let the clock run except for fouls and timeouts. Pope accepted the shortened game, but it went against his nature.

“It’s against every coaching philosophy I know,” he said.

By the fourth and final quarter, Lynden had substituted liberally, playing its deep reserves. Pope sat most of his starters — Lee, Comfort, junior Taylor Simmons and junior Mitchell Hughes. It allowed some of the Falcons to shine, however dimly, in the rout. Pope credited sophomore forward Nick French and junior Guy Sparkman for playing with pride and hustle.

“He played to the very last whistle. Nick didn’t care,” Pope said.

“That boy (Sparkman) did not quit,” Pope added.

Despite losing in the worst margin in more than three years, the Falcons “goofed off” and laughed in the locker room. Pope was upset with his players’ reactions to the game.

“I’ve been coaching around South Whidbey about 10, 15 years . . . there’s never been a South Whidbey boys basketball team that had a running clock imposed on them because the score was so one-sided,” Pope said. “If you’re not embarrassed about that, you shouldn’t ever be wearing the blue and white again.”

He recalled his players responding to his criticism honestly, asking whether they should laugh or cry about it.

“They’ve been playing a lot more than us. I think they played like 75 games in fall and the summer, and we haven’t been,” Comfort said. “They were just a really great team.”

South Whidbey returned to practice Thursday morning. Pope said everything, from watching the game film to drills, was difficult.

“I found out today that yeah, they were embarrassed,” Pope said. “It showed that they had pride. They went at it.”

The Falcons scrimmaged against the junior varsity team.

With pride wounded, the varsity boys played more physical and aggressive than they have, which led to some “heated interactions.”

“We don’t get any better with JV playing soft against us,” Comfort said.

With New Year’s Day around the corner and conference play resuming Jan. 3 against Coupeville, Pope urged the Falcons to consider it a new season.

Part of the new season will be a new lineup, which has yet to be decided.

“We’re not going to have the same starting five, that’s for damn sure,” Pope said.

“It’s Day One all over again, and we’ve had a bunch of Day Ones.”


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