They had largely erased the 19-point lead that Peninsula built late in the first half and were trailing by just six points, 72-66, with a minute and a half to play, but Mitrell Clark knew he just had to wait for the right moment to end the Orcas’ rally.
Trying to drain as much time off the clock as possible, Clark dribbled at the top of the key while his teammates, trying to create a lane for the 5-foot, 10-inch guard, spread out across the court.
With an explosive burst, Clark drove to the basket, contorting his body and laying the ball in the hoop.
Drilling his foul shot to complete the three-point play, Clark put away the victory and capped a night of spectacular plays for the Pirates.
“It is unbelievably important to understand how to play with a lead and close out against good teams,” said Peninsula coach Lance Von Vogt.
The Pirates (4-1 in division, 9-5 overall) earned a crucial NWAACC North Division win over No. 2-ranked Whatcom (3-1 in division, 11-2 overall), 83-75, on Monday, Jan. 17.
Peninsula picked a good time to put their high-flying, aggressive style of play on full display, and the Orcas were not able to recover from the Pirates’ relentless attack.
“We try to prepare ourselves to play better each time we step on the floor, and I thought tonight we got better,” said Von Vogt.
“Our defensive intensity and awareness and extra effort were superior tonight.”
With the score knotted at two just over three minutes into the game, Clark caught a pass just beyond the three-point line. Freezing his defender with a head fake, Clark streaked past him for a two-point bucket, initiating an 18-8 Peninsula run over the next seven minutes.
About six minutes before halftime, DeShaun Freeman took an entry pass from Jerry Johnson and exploded to the basket for a thunderous two-handed dunk. Freeman was issued a technical foul for hanging on the rim, but he learned his lesson. Employing it only 30 seconds later, Freeman powered through the lane and might have had another opportunity to deliver a throw-down but wisely floated the ball into the cylinder, not as definitive but certainly effective.
Perhaps the most electrifying play of the night did not result in a basket.
As fans were still settling into their seats for the second half, Sammeon Waller nabbed a steal and lofted an alley-oop pass that Freeman fiercely dunked, one-handed, into the basket. The play was disallowed because the referees ruled that Waller was fouled before the pass, but the athletic marvel still generated a palpable buzz.
Freeman and Clark fueled the Pirates’ offensive outburst with 17 points each.
Waller turned in an impressive all-around performance, netting 16 points, grabbing seven rebounds, dishing out four assists and collecting three steals.
JB Pillard led Whatcom with 29 points and five rebounds. Jordan Nicholes chipped in with 12 buckets and five rebounds.
Peninsula next hosts the Edmonds Tritons (0-4 in division, 2-10 overall) at 7 p.m. today, Jan. 19. The Pirates believe they are going to go step-for-step with the top teams in the division.
“We came out with our minds right,” said Waller. “It’s a huge win. We’re here to stay.”