South Whidbey boys basketball claimed the top spot in the Cascade Conference on Tuesday night.
The Falcons aim to keep it, too.
South Whidbey beat King’s 65-50 at Erickson Gymnasium on Jan. 9. The Falcons jumped out to a 16-8 lead after the first quarter and maintained their lead to the final whistle, improving to 11-4 overall and 5-1 in league. They’ve won six of their last seven games and were riding a three-game winning streak coming into their game against Sultan, played after The Record’s deadline on Friday night.
The Knights, who finished fourth in the class 1A state championships and won two state championships in 2014 and 2015, dropped to 6-6, 4-2. It was the Falcons’ first victory against the Knights since the 2010-2011 season.
Four Falcons finished in the double-digits in scoring, spearheaded by senior Lewis Pope who eclipsed 1,000 points in his career with a three-point field goal early in the first quarter. Sophomore forward Carson Wrightson scored 14 points, while sophomore guard Dexter Jokinen junior guard Kody Newman added 12 and 10 points, respectively.
Pope, a 6-foot-4 guard who is committed to Central Washington University, possessed the ball as the final whistle blew. A smile never left his face from the time he exited the gym to when he entered the coach’s office in the locker room.
His teammates and coaches savored the victory by cheering and jumping around in the office in obvious bliss. He summed up what the feeling was like in simple terms.
“I’m just happy,” said Pope, who finished with 20 points.
Pope never beat King’s until Tuesday night. Neither had his coach, Mike Washington.
Pope and Newman stated at the beginning of the season that they wanted to beat King’s for Washington. Putting words into action is easier said than done, but the team did it.
It was an outcome Washington found hard to grasp.
“The win is really surreal,” Washington said. “It hasn’t hit me yet because we’ve always been chasing King’s. We’ve always been beat badly by King’s.”
It was more than a league win, Newman said. It’s the biggest statement the Falcons have made this season that they’re for real. There’s some added pressure that comes with it.
“Now, we’ve got a bigger target (on us) than beforehand,” Newman said. “People are going to see that we beat King’s by 15. ‘Alright, we’ve got to start taking little South Whidbey seriously.’”
“We came in here wanting to beat King’s. They’re top of the conference. Now people are going to use that same mindset against us, so we’ve got to use that same intensity every time,” he added.
The team laden with youth — five of the Falcons’ seven players who saw action are sophomores — appeared calm and collected in the waning minutes of the game. The players could sense the Knights were panicked and desperate for a chance to exploit any opportunity they could to close the gap.
Despite the Knights’ efforts to stop it, the Falcons kept scoring.
“I feel like it just goes to show how hard we’ve been working,” Newman said. “…That felt so good. There’s nothing like it.”
Pope added that he thinks the Falcons have more experience than their age shows.
Wrightson was testament to this. The 6-foot-6 second-year player was the physical force the Falcons needed underneath the hoop. He scrapped with the Knights’ veteran forward Taylor Schoenfield, a 6-foot-2, 250-pound senior on defense and did his best to set screens for his teammates.
“I was just trying to do my job the best I could and try to keep a level head,” Wrightson said.
Washington credited the Falcons for consistency in scoring throughout the game, which kept pressure on the Knights. Their defense was also strong.
“I thought our man-to-man defense looked pretty good, too,” Washington said. “It caused several turnovers in the first two quarters there and were able to go and capitalize on that.”
“The kids just wanted to play,” he added.
Washington reminded his team after the game that for as much significance as the win has, it was crucial that it not get to their heads. With six games left in the regular season, the players are right around the corner.
“That win is big, but like I told them, we can’t let that be our season,” Washington said. “We’ve got to keep working at it.”