South Whidbey’s senior night was near perfect Tuesday in a thrilling, hold-onto-your-seat finish 69-67 win over Cedarcrest.
The Falcon boys basketball team played their final home game of the year, barring a perfect run in the upcoming 1A District 1 tournament next week, which means they would return to South Whidbey for one or more matches. But it did not come without a good amount of nervous sweat on South Whidbey’s part, as Cedarcrest whittled away a 20-point lead in the final 2:27 and had a shot to win the game on a long three-pointer that bounced off the backboard without hitting the rim as time expired.
“It was a fun one to play in,” said Falcon senior Parker Collins, who scored a team-high 21 points. “At the end, it got a little crazy.”
South Whidbey needed every basket in its final home game. The Red Wolves closed out the waning moments in what seemed to be a run-away Falcon win on a 21-2 run.
“We kind of thought we had it in the bag,” Collins said. “We were doing stuff we normally don’t do, trying to push the ball. We didn’t handle it well at all, as you can see from losing the 20-point lead. But it feels good to get the win.”
All four Falcon seniors scored at least one basket and were led by the smooth shooting of Collins and the high-flying energy of Chandler Sutton.
Early on, the fast-paced play seemed to be a game of chicken, and the first team to blink was going to lose as they traded baskets and the lead.
Sutton, a hot-and-cold player who started the season slowly but has found his role in recent weeks, sparked the Falcons with an early breakaway dunk. Every step he took toward the open basket, which started with a Collins steal and pass, the home crowd in Erickson Gym grew louder. By the time he threw down his first jam of the season, the rowdy Falcon faithful were in a fury. Before the game, Sutton said he told his teammates he was going to try to dunk the ball, if he got the chance.
“I told them, ‘It’s my senior night, I’m going to try it,’” Sutton said after the game, being congratulated by family and friends. “If I miss, I miss. I’m gonna get it.”
That basket put South Whidbey ahead 15-14, but was quickly answered by a three-pointer from Cedarcrest’s Alex Paulsen. South Whidbey’s frenetic play drew another moment of loud crowd noise when Collins got the ball at the top of the key, moved toward the free throw line, flicked the ball beyond the three-point arc to junior Donovan Miller, who hit a deep shot.
Maxfield Friedman, a Falcon sophomore, stole the ball on defense, which led to a three-pointer from freshman Lewis Pope, the only non-senior to start for South Whidbey, who scored 20 points and made five three-pointers.
The second quarter was not quite so busy, as the Falcons changed their defense to better challenge the Red Wolves’ sharpshooters, who had hit six three-pointers already. Cedarcrest players Robert Cha and Chase Cardon combined for five of those in the first quarter.
Assigning Collins out to the perimeter on defense, South Whidbey negated both Cha and Gordon and the entire Cedarcrest perimeter play. The Red Wolves did not make a three-pointer in the second quarter and were held to 12 points. Foul trouble limited Cardon, who picked up two fouls early in the second quarter.
Collins took over for South Whidbey on offense. The senior hit a pair of three pointers, including on his first shot of the period that also drew a foul and free throw, which he made. Showing some of his moves, Collins hit his second long-range shot after faking the ball inside, stepping to the side and drilling a three. His final basket came on a shot where, sandwiched between the sideline, baseline and a defender, Collins stepped through and launched a shot trying to draw a foul. Instead, the ball banked high off the backboard and through the net.
At halftime, the Falcons led 40-34. Through the third quarter, South Whidbey opened up its lead scoring another 14 points and finishing with a 10-point lead thanks to a buzzer-beating three from Miller.
The game seemed to be in-hand, or talon, for the Falcons after a Collins layup pushed South Whidbey up 67-46. From there, nearly everything went right for Cedarcrest which hit its shots and forced turnovers from South Whidbey.
Free-throw shooting in the fourth quarter was a struggle for the Falcons, who made three of their eight attempts. Meanwhile, the Red Wolves were extraordinary from three-point range, hitting five in the final 2:27.
South Whidbey had already secured its spot in the 1A District 1 tournament that begins Feb. 9. The Falcons are the third seed from the Cascade Conference and will face the second seed from the Northwest Conference.