LANGLEY — On Friday, what could have been a debacle of epic proportions for South Whidbey turned into a night to remember.
Granted, the boys basketball team lost their district playoff opener 50-42 to the Anacortes Seahawks, but they almost made a comeback for the ages.
“Oh, man, that was an intense game,” South Whidbey’s CJ Baker said afterward. “We all had playoff jitters but our defense was amazing and we came back from an 18-point deficit.”
They did come back, just not far enough.
This was the first playoff game ever held in Erikson Gym and the first boys basketball playoff event since 1992.
Counting 80 visitors from Anacortes, roughly 500 fans were rocking in the stands by tip-off time.
Early warning signs that the Falcons were in trouble developed as Baker, Eric Stallman, Blake Blakey and Parker Barnett continually had their shot attempts go south — the ball running the rim or flopping into the Seahawks’ hands after each attempt.
Even so, South Whidbey stayed close. Baker stole the ball for two, Barnett was fouled and picked up another deuce that left the Falcons behind 10-7 after the first quarter.
Despite a few missed passing signals, the strange thing was that the boys were playing better than Anacortes in every category but one — the one that counts. In fact, Barnett finished with more points than Seahawk lead shooter Luke Averill.
Anacortes started to pull away in the second. Seahawks Averill and Alec Mavar began to make themselves felt with good layups and solid shooting.
On the other end of the court, time after time the Falcons broke through Anacortes’ defense, and time after time they came away with zip, zero, zilch.
Stallman, Baker and Carey each accounted for spectacular full-court breakaways that went nowhere.
South Whidbey picked up just two points in the second quarter and it was 22-9 at the half.
The scoring drought did not go unnoticed.
“They’re having a little trouble finding the hoop tonight,” announcer Mike McInerney told the crowd.
In the locker room at the break, the Falcons talked about getting back to the basics.
“At half time, Coach Collins said we need to stick to our strengths,” Baker recalled.
Stallman said the coach knew the game was still winnable.
“I’ve never been in a playoff game before and it was a big deal.” Stallman said. “We all had major jitters, evidenced by missing some meaty shots.”
Less than a minute into the third quarter, Barnett brought the team into double digits with two and Baker picked up his first three-pointer.
But Anacortes replied by tightening their defensive coverage. Despite flashes of brilliance, the Falcons seemed reluctant to take chances. Eric Stallman managed four in a row but wasn’t backed up and no sustained drive developed.
Finally, the Falcons got some lucky breaks. Stallman threw into dense coverage to Barnett who was blocked but Adam Hosmer took the rebound and scored.
The team was behind 38-27 after the third period, but no one was leaving yet.
Barnett started making his shots, Baker got another trey with 5:05 left, the defense woke up and the Falcons found themselves just four points behind. Baker and Chris Carey stole the ball twice to deny the Seahawks and Barnett helped keep the gap manageable.
The problem was, the clock was ticking down. Barnett picked up two, Stallman fast broke for three and the score was 40-39 with
With the home fans screaming “FALCON POWER!”, the Seahawks hung in, making all their free throws after Hosmer and Stallman were tabbed on fouls.
With less than a minute left and the score 46-41, Baker’s third three-pointer missed and he closed on only one of three attempts at the line.
Anacortes’ Mackenzie Larkin then broke up Stallman’s fast-break attempt and Jordan Freeman finished the night with a single free throw for the 50-42 final.
Anacortes coach Brett Senff said he knew South Whidbey was scouting his team.
“So we went back to our roots, man-to-man coverage,” he said. “Scott (coach Collins) is resilient and keeps coming at you, so you’ve got to stay on top of things.”
Barnett had 16 points on the night for the Falcons.
“We played a killer second half,” he said. “The practices were good this week, we felt comfortable but couldn’t get anything going on offense. We settled down, it just took longer than normal.”
Scott Stallman felt Anacortes was beatable.
“We had a horrible first half and couldn’t recover,” he said. “Our fault, not theirs.”
All the players were upbeat by their next playoff round, scheduled for last night after The Record went to press.
The Falcons played at Mount Vernon against Archbishop Murphy and South Whidbey was confident before the game.
“We’ve beaten the Wildcats twice and should do it again,” Barnett said. “We definitely have a lot of motivation; our goal is to get to state finals.”
Even as playoffs continued, practice for spring sports got underway Monday in track, girls tennis, boys soccer, baseball, softball and boys and girls golf.