Falcons keep it close against Wildcats

Falcon Jordan Thornley had a big night in the boys 57-49 loss to Archbishop Murphy Tuesday. His two quick, unexpected scores at the end of the first half tied the game, and offered fans a little hope against the undefeated Wildcats. - David Welton / The Record
Falcon Jordan Thornley had a big night in the boys 57-49 loss to Archbishop Murphy Tuesday. His two quick, unexpected scores at the end of the first half tied the game, and offered fans a little hope against the undefeated Wildcats.
— image credit: David Welton / The Record

LANGLEY — The South Whidbey boys basketball team did their level best Tuesday, but lost 58-49 to the undefeated Archbishop Murphy Wildcats.

The Wildcats scored first, then employed an almost impenetrable man-to-man defense that was tough to crack until Scott Stallman picked up three points from the corner pocket. Murphy’s players were tall — just one registered under 6-feet — as well as fast, aggressive and committed to staying unbeaten.

Problem was, their shots weren’t going in, and any desire to put the game away early was scotched by a revised South Whidbey defensive game plan led by Chris Carey, Riley Newman, Adrian Cortes and Jeff Brasko.

Each team slowed the pace to take the measure of the other.

When the Falcons pulled within a point, the Wildcats reacted quickly. By the end of the first period, the Falcons were behind 14-7.

Wildcat Davon Fleming caught fire as the second quarter began, however. He swiped the ball and scored, but the Falcons’ intelligent defense prevented anything approaching a rout.

Conversely, with many long arms attached to tall bodies, it was hard for the Falcon boys to get inside the paint, and when they did their shots didn’t fall.

Slowly Newman, Cole Erikson and Jordan Thornley began to get their act together, scored several threes, and Wildcat coach Greg Turcott started to have doubts as he paced the sidelines anxiously, clearly not happy with his players.

With seconds left, Thornley struck twice and suddenly the score was tied at 24-24.

Tied? With Murphy? The several hundred Falcon fans present were both stunned and hopeful.

Then, as the third quarter began, Erikson was fouled and Newman stung the ‘Cats for three and the score was 28-24.

The bruised Murphy players quickly rallied, but couldn’t hold off the Falcons; a Stallman high flyer for three made it 36-36 at the final break.

To this point, South Whidbey had played with skill, finesse, toughness, speed and a lot of heart. The boys transition from the defense was outstanding.

With 5:38 left in the fourth quarter, the Wildcats reached down into their souls, cranked up the volume and began to make shots at will, determined to keep their unbroken streak alive.

They were aided by a couple of bad calls, some misguided passes and a sudden drop in scoring by South Whidbey.

Murphy pulled away gradually and the score widened by four, then six points as Wildcat JJ Quinlan upped his total to 19 points for the night.

Even after Wildcat shooter Paris Felder was retired on fouls, the Wildcats maintained the pace. In the final minute, Falcon coach Scott Collins graciously cycled in Andy Bennett, TJ Russell and Kyle West for some court time; they will form the future of South Whidbey basketball.

Russell got the final points and it was over at 58-49.

Wildcat coach Turcott wasn’t play acting earlier; he admitted he was worried.

“We were very lucky to win tonight; we played a very good, well-coached team,” Turcott said. “Their kids had some trouble making shots at the end and that made the difference. Everyone we play is throwing everything they’ve got our way, and South Whidbey came closest.”

Collins noted how hard it is to score on Murphy (13-0).

“We had a pretty good rhythm going with our small group and I probably didn’t substitute enough in the second half,” Collins said.

“We could have put Brasko and Cortes in for spurts more and give some of our other guys a breather. As a young coach you constantly learn new things each game and each practice,” he added. “The positives are that if we play that well the next couple of weeks we will have a chance of beating some district tournament teams and give ourselves a realistic shot at a state tournament berth.”

Scott said the coaches put a lot of pressure on Newman and Stallman to score, but he wants to see the supporting cast score more so teams can’t just focus on stopping those two.

“Thornley has become that third option and has really improved and played well the second half of the season. Murphy is a state tournament basketball team, so I was pleased that we competed at their level for most of the game,” the coach said.

Newman and Stallman tied with 14 points each, Thornley posted nine, Erikson added seven and Carey, three.

Before the game, seniors Stallman, Carey, Brasko and Cortes were honored by the team for their dedication to Falcon sports.

At 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 26, the Falcons play the first round of district playoffs at Bellingham High School.

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