LANGLEY — Fighting for a District 1 playoff win, South Whidbey and Coupeville hit the floor, each other and their shots Thursday night.
Team free throws and hot three-point shooting by reserve junior Nate Hanson locked up the victory for South Whidbey, 56-45, ending Coupeville’s abysmal season (0-14 Cascade Conference; 1-21 overall).
“It feels good to get a playoff win, it feels good to get a win, we haven’t had many this season,” said Falcon senior Taylor Simmons.
“Coupeville plays very, very hard, all the time. That’s what they do and I definitely respect them for it.”
South Whidbey scored on its first possession and never trailed. The Falcons led by as much as 12 points in the first half, but saw the Wolves claw their way back to within two late in the third. Full-court pressure worked for South Whidbey from there as Coupeville was held scoreless for the first five minutes of the fourth quarter.
Those stops allowed the Falcons to stretch their lead to 42-32 before the Wolves tried to stretch out the game by fouling. In the final three minutes, South Whidbey converted 14 of 16 free throw attempts and committed only one turnover.
“Free throws are an easy way to get points and we needed to pull away at the end, and crazy things happen,” Simmons said.
The Falcons played without their starting point guard, senior Sam Turpin, who was out of town on vacation. And though turnovers stunted South Whidbey’s offense all season, including Thursday’s game, unlikely scoring from Simmons — usually a defender — and Hanson masked the deficiencies. Simmons wracked up a team-high 14 points and made 6 of 8 free throws, including four in the 45 seconds.
“My free throw shooting has been weird this year, either I’m on and I can’t miss or I’m off and can’t find the bucket,” Simmons said.
“I took it upon myself to get up there, relax, block out all the noise and hit my free throws.”
Hanson finished with a season-high 11 points off the bench while playing his most extended minutes of the year. He connected on three three-pointers and hit 2 of 4 free throws.
“We were trying to focus on getting the ball into the post, but if it was open coach said to take the shot,” Hanson said.
“The nerves went away, I felt great.”
Coupeville’s best run was in the third quarter. Seizing on the Falcons’ tendency to start the second half slow, the Wolves leaned on junior Ben Etzell. He attacked the Falcons’ defense, cutting into the paint, pulling up for jump shots and fighting for offensive rebounds.
Wolves junior forward Nick Streubel helped keep Coupeville in the game. The big-bodied Wolf patrolled the low post, tallied four blocks, and scored 10 points for Coupeville. Streubel’s short jumper on the baseline that sparked a 5-0 run that brought the Wolves within reach, 30-28.
Where the Wolves went with size in the paint, the Falcons went with agility. Falcon sophomore Parker Collins carved through the Wolves’ defense with ball fakes, drop steps and scoops for 13 points. Free throw shooting boosted his scoring total, as Collins connected on 7 of 8 free throws.
“We weren’t going to settle for any outside shots,” Collins said. “We were trying to extend the shot clock and get to the line, and they fouled us.”
On Tuesday, South Whidbey lost 59-42 to Meridian, which handed the Falcons their worst loss of the season, 82-35, on Nov. 29.
South Whidbey (2-12 Cascade Conference; 5-18 overall) traveled to face Mount Baker (3-9 Northwest Conference; 7-15 overall) for another elimination game Friday night.
The winner advances to the 1A tri-district tournament after playing a third/fourth-place seeding game Saturday against either Blaine or Meridian.