by MICHAEL DASHIELLSequim Gazette
The Pirates are golden once more.
Just four months after Peninsula College’s men’s soccer squad captured the school’s first soccer championship, the Pirate men’s basketball squad captured the NWAACC trophy, downing Pierce College 80-76 in a classic barnburner on March 8.
Mitrell Clark led all scorers with 28 points, Sammeon Waller added 22 points and six assists, and DeShaun Freeman added 11 points and 10 rebounds to give Peninsula its second basketball title and first since 1970.
Clark sank a pair of free throws for a 78-76 lead and Peninsula got key blocks from Freeman and Waller in the final seconds to preserve the victory.
“They earned it,” said Lance Von Vogt, who led the Pirates to an NWAACC championship in his first
season at the school.
He pointed out that each of the teams that Peninsula beat — Pierce, Spokane, Tacoma and Yakima Valley — all went on to place, finishing second through fourth.
“It just shows that, when you have a team on a mission that won’t be denied, great things can happen,” Von Vogt said.
In this tournament, it wasn’t easy. Peninsula battled its way through a gauntlet of the best the NWAACC had to offer, from a tough Yakima Yaks squad in the first round to No. 1-ranked Tacoma in the quarterfinals and a highly-ranked Spokane Sasquatch in the semis.
But the tourney’s top test came against the Pierce Raiders, who jumped out to an early 8-1 lead and led 13-4 before the Pirates awoke.
“We were put together real well; we have guys who are game-changers,” Von Vogt said. “(Pierce) wanted to take away DeShaun (Freeman). They were doubling and tripling him, so we adjusted our game plan.”
That meant swinging the ball around and finding Clark, Waller and company for long-range jumpers.
Peninsula hit 12 of 22 from beyond the arc.
Clark and Waller led a spirited final 15 minutes of the first half, with Clark’s bucket at 5:41 giving Peninsula a 23-21 lead.
Jeremiah Johnson converted a three-point play just before the break, giving the Pirates a 35-31 lead at halftime.
Pierce opened the second half strong, scoring the first five points. But soon after, Waller sank a pair of long-range jumpers, and with a Clark 3-pointer with 11 minutes to go that gave P.C. a 59-48 advantage, the Pirates looked like they might pull away.
The Raiders responded in kind, closing the gap to two points with an 11-2 run. The final eight minutes saw a seesaw battle, with Peninsula holding a slight edge in the final minute.
With 48 seconds left and Peninsula up 76-73, Pierce’s Michael Stepovich stepped up and sank a 3-pointer to tie the contest.
On Peninsula’s next possession, Clark was fouled and hit both free throws for a 78-76 lead.
Pierce looked to answer but Alix Hernandez’s shot was off the mark, and P.C.’s Anthony Williams snagged the rebound. A quick foul put Williams on the line but he missed the pair, giving Pierce another life.
“We love Anthony’s toughness,” Von Vogt said. “He was really upset with himself. I was actually really calm (in the final seconds).”
The ball went to Pierce’s Brandon Thomas with less than 10 ticks left, but the Pirates deflected a pair of shots before Clark wound up with the ball. He sank a pair of free throws to clinch victory, capping a tourney that saw him take home the Most Valuable Player trophy.
Von Vogt and the Pirate crew found family and friends awaiting them as they pulled into the Peninsula College gym parking lot on March 9. Hoisting the trophy, players were all smiles.
“We just stuck together,” sophomore Trevant Musgrow said. “We had four hard teams in a row.”
The second-year guard said it took a while to get used to his new teammates — 14 in all, including four new sophomores — but that once it clicked, they wound up being like one big, happy family.
A family with some hardware, too.
Von Vogt joked that he’d set the bar pretty high after just one year at Peninsula, but looking ahead to 2011-2012, when up to 11 freshmen-becoming-sophomores could come back to defend the NWAACC title, the Pirate coach sounded optimistic.
“You’re not going to put a team together and not expect to challenge for a championship,” Von Vogt said.
Freeman, Vinson named all-stars
Freshman DeShaun Freeman and sophomore Thad Vinson were named NWAACC North Region all-stars last week. Freeman, a 6-foot 7-inch forward from Los Angeles, was named to the North Division’s first team after averaging 16 points and 9.7 rebounds per game. He was the only freshman named to the squad. Vinson, a 6-foot 3-inch guard from Ocean Shores, was named to the region’s second team after averaging 14.3 points, two assists and four rebounds per game.
Vinson also was named to the Sophomore All-Star Game and helped the North squad tip the East, 91-89. Jeremy Eggers, Bellevue head coach, won the region’s Coach of the Year and, along with Peninsula coach Lance Von Vogt, coached the North’s sophomore all-stars.
Reach Michael Dashiell at email@example.com.