Falcons clinch league playoff berth at Cedarcrest

Falcon Riley Newman powers his way past a couple of Sultan Turks on Friday. South Whidbey lost, but beat Cedarcrest the next day, 71-55, to clinch a playoff berth in the Cascade Conference. - Jeff VanDerford / The Record
Falcon Riley Newman powers his way past a couple of Sultan Turks on Friday. South Whidbey lost, but beat Cedarcrest the next day, 71-55, to clinch a playoff berth in the Cascade Conference.
— image credit: Jeff VanDerford / The Record

The South Whidbey boys basketball team has secured a playoff spot in the Cascade Conference.

But they had to fight for it.

In overtime on Friday, the team lost at home to the Sultan Turks 75-67.

The very next day, they beat Cedarcrest 71-55 for a 6-4 conference record and a guaranteed trip to districts for the second year in a row.

The key against Sultan was shutting down league-leading scorer Jordan Nicholes — the Turk forward has 363 points to date — and it seemed to work at first.

Falcon Scott Stallman had a great first quarter, inspiring the boys to pull ahead 18-8 at the break.

Things tightened in the second period, but the Falcons still led 32-28 and life was good for the home team. But Sultan had a secret weapon and his name was Michael LaMunyon.

While South Whidbey defended Nicholes, LaMunyon started making three-pointers and a see-saw battle ensued, complete with stall tactics and some brilliant flashes of hard-charging fast breaks and fancy scoring by Jordan Thornley and Riley Newman for the Falcons.

As the fourth quarter began, the Falcons were hanging on by a point, 45-44.

But then the Turks’ shots started going in, while the Falcons fumbled. At one point, Adrian Cortes, Chris Carey, Thornley and Jeff Brasko managed the ball so as to draw everyone off Newman, who contributed a three-pointer.

LaMunyon came back to tie it at 62-62 with 13 seconds left and the four-minute OT clock began.

Slowly, through fouls, bad shots and balls that bounced the wrong way — not to mention a couple LaMunyon three-pointers — Sultan pulled away until the final, 75-67.

Sultan coach Nate Trichler said his strategy was to run his players at the Falcon shooters.

“In the second half, we took Jordan off the ball; Michael stepped up and hit his shots,” Trichler said.

“Sultan played a really good game,” Falcon coach Scott Collins said. “They didn’t quit, stayed persistent and beat us.“We had a couple of costly turnovers in the fourth quarter that they scored on. LaMunyon killed us with seven threes, but I thought our defense was decent. We could have denied him the ball a little bit more and forced him to penetrate instead of catching and shooting,” Collins said.

“Overall I was really pleased with our efforts; sometimes you have to tip your cap to the opponent,” he added.

“They just hit their shots more than we did,” Brasko added. “There were a couple possessions we could have sealed the deal, but that didn’t happen.”

Newman and Stallman led South Whidbey with 24. Thornley had

10 and Cortes, five. Sultan’s LaMunyon outscored his teammate Nicholes 25 to 23.

The next day, Cedarcrest went ahead 17-11 by the end of the first quarter.

But South Whidbey bounced back in the second period, outscoring the Red Wolves 27-10. The Falcons finished the half on an 8-0 run in the final 15 seconds behind Newman, Stallman and Brasko.

The Falcons took the win, and a free ticket to the playoffs, with the 71-55 victory.

Newman finished the night with 23 points and was six-for-six from the free-throw line. Stallman had 14, Brasko added 12, Thornley finished with eight and Carey contributed five.

Collins said the secret to the team’s success has been the commitment made by seniors to get as much play-time in the off season as possible.

There were other factors as well.

“We have improved our scoring from 41 points per game to this season, when we are averaging 56.5 points per game,” Collins said.

Finally, there has been consistent improvement.

“We had to change a culture, we had to get the kids playing basketball on the attack,” Collins said. “We give the kids a lot of freedom and sometimes it may look unorganized, but we work on those situations a lot in practice. We teach the kids how to play, then let them make plays in the games. It’s an attacking style of basketball, and we believe that the kids really enjoy playing this way.”

Stallman certainly does.

“Playoffs are nice, but we have our sights set on a higher goal, “ he said. “We want to go to state.”

To which Brasko added,

“I concur.”

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