Pioneers are big bump in road for Falcons

In a near reprise of a game they played against the Pioneers on Dec. 16, the Falcon boys basketball team nearly shut down Nooksack Valley Saturday afternoon, but not enough to beat them.

In a second-round district playoff game at Mount Vernon High School, the South Whidbey boys lost their lowest-scoring game of the season 43-31 to the defending state champion Pioneers. The contest brought back memories of December’s matchup between the two teams, when the Pioneers also prevailed, 45-30.

This time around, it was rebounding and free throw shooting that killed South Whidbey’s shot to get into the state tournament the easy way. Had they won the game, they would have earned an automatic berth in state. Early in the game, it seemed they would have a chance, as they gave up only a one-point lead to the Pioneers at the end of an 11-10 first quarter. They stayed within striking range into the third quarter as both teams’ defenses made shooting from the field almost impossible.

But the Pioneers took an edge on an 31-18 rebounding advantage and, then, in the fourth quarter, started going to the hole. Trailing in a game that to that point had been slim on possessions for both teams, the Falcons had little choice but to start fouling the Pioneers to prevent their lead from getting even larger.

Unfortunately for South Whidbey, the Pioneers were better at the line than they were in the lane, shooting 21-for-31 on foul shots, versus South Whidbey’s 10-for-17. Sixteen of Nooksack’s free throws came in the second half.

Falcon coach Andy Davis said his team did not shoot well in the game, which contributed in the loss. Going into the game prepared to wage a defensive war, the Falcons were at a disadvantage against the Pioneers’ solid man-to-man coverage. However, both defenses forced patience on offense: Each team had just 47 possessions, far fewer than the 60 to 70 the Falcons averaged throughout the season.

To make it into the state tournament at this point, South Whidbey needs to win its next two playoff games. The Falcons play Lynden Christian tonight at Mount Vernon High School, a team that beat South Whidbey twice this year in two close games. Davis said the key to beating the Lyncs is simple.

“We need to bounce back, be consistent, and execute well,” he said.

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