This one hurt.
Season-ending losses usually do.
South Whidbey’s 62-41 loss to King’s in the loser-out elimination game of the 1A District 1 tournament on Feb. 9 at Erikson Gymnasium pained South Whidbey senior Lewis Pope because he won’t get the chance to see his team make it to state.
It saddened junior Kody Newman that the Falcons couldn’t win in front of the community that came out in droves to support their postseason run.
Sophomore Dexter Jokinen wanted his senior teammates, Pope and Ryan Wenzek, to go out on top.
Pope has no regrets about how things ended though.
“Everybody worked their hardest,” Pope said. “They just got us.”
The loss marked the end of a successful run for the Falcons, as glum as the outcome felt.
The Falcons were champions of the Cascade Conference, the first public school to win the league outright in more than a decade. They did so despite the fact that a majority of the team were sophomores getting their first year of varsity under their belt.
“At the end of the day, you’re sad because you lost,” Newman said. “You’ve got to look at it from a different side and see that we’re champions.”
“From the beginning I told you we had a young team. We were going to have to do hard work and we reached one of our goals: we were conference champs.”
South Whidbey also won eight of its last nine games to finish the regular season.
Head coach Mike Washington thought the Knights’ past experience, from winning conference titles to high finishes in the state tournament, gave King’s the confidence it needed to win.
“I feel like we got beat by the better team,” Washington said. “…I’m definitely happy with what we were able to do (this season).”
The Falcons were 1-1 against the Knights during the regular season. South Whidbey beat King’s 65-50 on Jan. 9, but the Knights won a rematch 57-43 on Feb. 2.
The Knights still had the Falcons’ number on Feb. 9.
“They just got going early and got confidence,” Pope said. “The last time we played them, I know we hit a couple big shots to start the game off and that kind of set the tone for the rest of the game. I think that kind of flipped this game. They hit a couple big threes.”
Pope guessed the Knights made 80 percent of their shots from the three-point line.
“They came out gunning,” Pope said. “It’s hard when a team is that consistent.”
They were also much better at shutting down Pope, the Falcons’ leading scorer who averaged north of 24 points per game this season. Pope scored 20 points against King’s a month ago, but was held to only six on Feb. 9. The Knights double- and even triple-teamed the Central Washington University commit throughout the game, leaving the scoring to the rest of the team.
Sophomore forwards Levi Buck and Carson Wrightson led the team with 11 and 10 points, but it wasn’t enough to keep up with the scoring pace of the Knights.
The Falcons trailed by only two points after the first quarter, but the Knights outscored South Whidbey 45-26 in the following three quarters.
“Sometimes you got to tip your cap,” Newman said. “That’s exactly what you got to do tonight. You’ve got to give respect when it’s due.”
King’s finished third in districts and is playing Mount Baker for third place in the bi-district tournament on Feb. 17. The Knights will play for a state berth next weekend.
Pope can rest assured that the Falcons fought to close the deficit the entire game.
“I’m proud the way we played,” Pope said. “If you go watch film, there’s three and a half minutes left, and we’re working our butts off down 16.”
Newman added, “The energy we had was great. Sometimes the shots just don’t fall and that’s what happened tonight.”
Underclassmen like sophomore Dexter Jokinen benefitted from this season and the way things ended. He knows what it takes to win at districts. He’ll have a wealth of experience and knowledge to build on next year.
“I learned a ton from Lewis,” Jokinen said. “Him and Kody did a really great job mentoring us, showing us how to play tempo. I think as a team, all of us young guys definitely developed a lot.”