Since it was built in 1955 the funky Bulldog gym at Mount Vernon High School has witnessed its share of triumphs and tragedies. Over theyears, thousands of young high school athletes have struggled to do their best in basketball, gymnastics and wrestling.
On Tuesday, the venerable venue saw the end of the South Whidbey boys basketball team’s dream to make it to the state championships.
The Falcons lost to Archbishop Murphy 50-60, ending their season to the team they beat twice this year.
Though the game played out over four quarters, it was lost in the first half.
If the coaches and the 75 South End fans on hand were expecting an offensive explosion from the Falcons, they heard a different noise instead: the sound of ATM slamming the door early on South Whidbey.
“I don’t know how to explain it,” Falcon coach Scott Collins said. “When you dig yourselves a hole in the first half, it’s very hard to climb back out.”
Scoring just two points in the first quarter does not a championship make; the Wildcats led 7-2 at the break.
Barnett, CJ Baker and Eric Stallman kept hopes alive in the second period but Falcon rebounds, or the lack thereof, squandered any hopes to make the game a contest. Some said they weren’t helped by several questionable calls.
“There were a bunch of over-the-back fouls under the net that weren’t caught,” Baker said.
Stallman added that you can never tell what the referees see during the action. “But it was tough on us,” he said.
At the half, the Wildcats led 19-13.
Barnett scored to begin the second period and Baker quickly followed with a trey but each point was matched by a revitalized ATM, knocking down any idea they couldn’t shoot well.
“They came ready to play,” Stallman said. “It’s hard to beat a team three times in a season and they were gunning for us.”
Stallman’s staunch rebounding coupled with brother Scott’s unexpected three-point efforts helped keep the Falcons on track — with two minutes left in the third, the Falcons were back in it and the score stood at 34-33.
“Scott’s been capable of doing that all along,” Barnett noted.
The South Whidbey Pep Band and cheer squad thoroughly drowned out their counterpart’s efforts in the stands as South Whidbey pulled within a single digit, 35-34 at the end of the quarter.
ATM forward Jared Smith sparked a Wildcat revival with a couple of three-pointers. With 5:20 left in the game, the Falcons converted to man-to-man coverage in order to better manage the ball and take possession.
Scott Stallman and Baker picked up a solid six but ATM followed suit — in the fourth they made 85 percent of their free throws and that hurt the Falcons’ chances for a sustained comeback.
Baker caught another trey with 1:15 left to make it 53-49 but that was the last gasp for South Whidbey at ATM pulled away at the finish.
Collins graciously cycled in Nick Tenuta, Adrian Cortez, Kyle West and Jon Poolman to give them a taste of playoff action.
The final was 60-50.
“It’s a lousy way to finish the season,” Barnett said. “After the game, the coach told the juniors and sophomores to keep improving and practice hard in the off season. It ended too soon but I had a good time.”
Baker noted ATM had improved their shooting skills in the last few weeks.
“At the half, the coach said we were playing for our lives, metaphorically speaking,” Baker recalled.
Seniors Baker, Stallman, Adam Hosmer, Barnett and Blake Blakey all agreed taking off the uniform for the last time was painful.
“It was hard and I’m going to miss this,” Stallman said. “But our expectations were pretty high.”
Overall, the team had a winning 12-10 season.
For first-year coach Collins, it wasn’t a bad start.
“I’m happy with the improvements our kids made, but our program will never be content with being mediocre,” Collins said. “We have a nice balance of kids throughout every grade level right now and we should be able to mix and match their talents to make a good varsity team.”
Collins said the seniors left a positive impact on the younger players and will always be remembered for their hard work and dedication to the team.
“The season goal was to get to Mount Vernon and the district tournament. We accomplished that and now our kids have an understanding of how good you have to be if you want to play at the next level.”
Collins ticked off the obvious concerns. “We need kids to improve their shooting; we shot 40 percent as a team this season and that is not good enough. We also need players who can create shots off the dribble or penetrate and create shots for teammates.
“And we really need to improve on rebounding; that cost us some games this year and that will definitely be an area of focus,” he said.
Jeff VanDerford can be reached at 221-5300 or email@example.com.