South Whidbey boys basketball coach Mike Washington usually likes to keep things mum.
Whenever possible, Washington avoids telling his players the potential implications of any given game to keep them focused and their minds clear of any distraction.
But, with a rematch against Cedar Park Christian looming this Friday night on the road, Washington decided to change things up.
“We have an opportunity for us to maybe home a playoff game, so you’ll definitely have to produce,” Washington told his players. “It’s time to step up to the plate.”
Washington expects Cedar Park Christian to give the Falcons nothing less than a battle on Friday night; South Whidbey beat the Eagles by just one point in overtime on Jan. 3, in a game that helped South Whidbey secure a berth to the postseason.
Now, the Falcons (7-10 overall, 4-5 in the Cascade Conference) and Eagles (9-8, 4-5 in league) are duking it out for the chance to host the first round of the district tournament. If the Falcons beat the Eagles and then defeat Granite Falls on Feb. 1, they will secure a home playoff game.
“Playing at their place is going to be tough,” Washington said. “…We got to limit turnovers, make shots and get defensive stops.”
Several injuries on the Falcons’ roster could sap South Whidbey’s strength. Tyler Dow, a senior, is out for the season with a wrist injury. Also injured are seniors Maxfield Friedman (achilles tendon) and Kellen Boyd (ankle); Washington is optimistic that Friedman will play in Friday night’s game, but is unsure about Boyd.
Friedman and Boyd scored a combined 25 points in the Falcons’ 64-63 win over the Eagles on Jan. 3.
Adding more difficulty to the Falcons’ chances of victory will be a two-quarter suspension of junior forward Anton Klein, who violated “team standards” during South Whidbey’s 53-52 win over La Conner on Jan. 21. Washington declined to elaborate on the suspension.
To compensate for the injuries and suspension, Washington is elevating two 6-foot-5 freshmen, Levi Buck and Carson Wrightson, from junior varsity to the varsity lineup. Though Buck and Wrightson are inexperienced, Washington is hopeful they can play a few minutes “here and there” to give the starters a breather. Washington said sophomore Wesley Crain and senior Cameron Asay, who are normally varsity substitute players, will also be relied upon to contribute.
“If we can hold our composure for the first quarter, I feel like we’ll have the confidence to compete throughout the game,” Washington said.
Washington knows he can rely on junior point guard Lewis Pope for scoring; Pope scored a game-winning layup against the Eagles on Jan. 13 with 13 seconds remaining in overtime. He also knows he has a solid scorer in sophomore point guard Kody Newman. And if Friedman and Boyd are able to play, the Falcons’ strength will be nearly back to 100 percent.
Washington said everyone else will need to understand and accept their roles as contributors and limit their turnovers. Only then will they have a chance to beat an Eagles team playing in their final regular season home game of the year.
“It’s going to be hard,” Washington said. “They defend, they run their stuff well, they execute. They play efficient and they play really hard. But, we can’t get down on ourselves. We have to withstand their runs.”