LANGLEY — It could have gone either way.
In the end, great shooting, the ability to rise to the occasion and a fast offense allowed Cedarcrest to beat the South Whidbey boys basketball team 79-64 on Friday.
The Falcons (6-4) are in third place in the Cascade Conference, behind the Red Wolves (8-2) and undefeated King’s.
Red Wolf coach Ray LaBate said his boys are the best shooters he’s had in 10 years.
“We work a lot in practice but it takes a year-round commitment and serious time in the backyard to get really good,” LaBate said.
And they’re fast — any time two teams score 143 points inside 78 minutes, you know things are moving right along.
The first quarter, though, belonged to South Whidbey. Cedarcrest won the tip-off but Blake Blakey caught the rebound and took it in for the first points on a fast break.
The Red Wolves couldn’t seem to get moving and South Whidbey starters Eric Stallman, Chris Carey, Parker Barnett, CJ Baker and Blakey took advantage.
Though Cedarcrest lead scorer Cullen Hammontree was out due to illness, his teammates soon rallied; guard Louie LaBate was especially active, flinging himself around the court with abandon.
“With Cullen out, the other guys stepped up their game,” LaBate said. “We know South Whidbey has a pretty darn good team.”
At the first break, the Falcons led 23-21.
Baker managed several three-pointers coming out of the gate while Carey and Barnett anchored the inside for some nice layups. As things heated up, neither coach made substitutions until the middle of the second period.
The game was played hard, fast, tough and smart by both sides. In fact, it was almost too fast for either side to fashion a coherent defense amid the ample offense.
At the half, South Whidbey led 38-35.
When play resumed, it was still a toss up.
But the Red Wolf defense suddenly woke up, making rebounds and preventing South Whidbey’s scoring on the inside — lots of missed chances were answered by Red Wolf pinpoint shots and Cedarcrest led 53-49 going into the fourth.
The momentum shifted as the Falcon’s rhythm faltered; expected shots didn’t go in, shooting from the foul line worsened.
“They began to shoot our lights out,” Barnett recalled.
“They’re just a great athletic team and could shoot the ball; there wasn’t anything we could do defensively,” he said.
Falcon coach Scott Collins agreed.
“Toward the end of the third quarter, their kids started making all their shots and it was hard to defend,” he said. “Our guys played a great game and maybe learned a few things.”
The pace was so fast, passions erupted on court and in the stands as players crashed into each other and fans loudly protested perceived misses by the referees.
Carey and Eric Stallman whirled past their opponents and brought the score even at 55.
But LaBate responded with a trey and gradually Cedarcrest pulled away.
Five minutes left and five points behind — what do you do?
The Stallman brothers and Carey erupted with intensity and picked up a few but Red Wolf guard Jake Leland’s three-pointer from the really cheap seats took the wind out of South Whidbey’s sails.
Cedarcrest, fast and aggressive throughout, ramped it up in the final minutes to shut the Falcons down and ended winning 79-64.
“We learned we could play with a really good team; I think the guys showed lots of heart tonight,” Collins said.
His counterpart explained their game plan.
“We’re not big, but fast, and we ran a lot to make up for lack of height, pushing the ball as much as possible,” LaBate said. “The result was a lot closer than the score indicates. Great game.”
Baker finished with 20 points for South Whidbey, while Blakey had 12, Barnett added 11, Eric Stallman chipped in 10 and Carey contributed eight.