By Lee Horton
Peninsula Daily News
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It was one of a collection of important plays made by the Roughriders' seniors in the last two minutes of Port Angeles' 45-41 win over its rival.
The win locks down the Riders' second consecutive Olympic League championship, and forces Sequim to beat Bremerton on the road Tuesday in order to clinch a postseason berth.
During a timeout after McKenzie Bentz's steal gave the Wolves the ball with 17 seconds left in the game and the Riders leading by two points, 43-41, Port Angeles assistant coach Jennifer Kunkel recommended head coach Michael Poindexter substitute Jones for freshman Nizhoni Wheeler.
Sequim advanced the ball to midcourt, where Jones ripped the ball away and passed it ahead to Hinrichs for a wide-open layup that gave the Riders a four-point lead with less than 10 seconds to play.
“She was a late substitution. That was a defensive substitution,” Poindexter said of inserting Jones.
“She's been around for three years on varsity. Nizhoni's just not used to big game stuff; Bailee's been through it all.
“I'm not sure we knew she was going to get the steal, but she was going to be in the right place at the right time and make the right decision.
“Coach Kunkel gets credit for that.”
Wheeler, though, was an important contributor for Port Angeles in the fourth quarter. The Riders struggled to score as Sequim led for the first four minutes of the final frame.
Wheeler entered the game to help the offense and came through, including following her own miss to give Port Angeles a 43-39 lead with 55 second left.
That capped off a 6-0 run that gave Port Angeles the lead for good, with the first four points coming from another senior, Krista Johnson, who led the Riders with 11 points.
Johnson tied the game off an assist by Maddie Boe, and then put the Riders ahead with a steal and layup with 1:45 to play.
“We finally hit some shots when we needed to,” Poindexter said.
“It was a total team effort, I thought. Every kid out there contributed somehow.”
Adding to Port Angeles' offensive struggles was poor free-throw shooting. The Riders missed 10 of 13 at the charity stripe.
“That's your cushion,” Poindexter said.
Kylee Jeffers, another senior, contributed on both ends of the court for all four quarters, finishing with six points and forcing Sequim's Caitlin Stofferahn to work hard for her 10 points.
“Kylee Jeffers must have played 29 minutes, and you know she does so much for us: penetration with the ball, great defense on Stofferahn and in the zone,” Poindexter said.
“It's hard to get her off the floor. She never ever, ever, ever, ever, ever takes a possession off.”
In the first half, it was a pair of other seniors, Payton Lee and Lenora Hofer, who received extra playing time due to sickness that afflicted the Riders throughout the week.
“I thought Lenora Hofer and Payton Lee really I think were the story of the first half for us,” Poindexter said.
“I thought they held us in early and did really well.”
Both teams' coaches lamented missed opportunities in the opening half, after which Port Angeles led 21-17.
For Poindexter, it was the Riders' off-balance shots and offensive decision making.
“We held them to the 17 [points in the first half] . . . we were happy with that, but we thought we should have had 30 [points],” he said.
“Not a great night for us offensively, but part of that is Sequim.”
Sequim coach Evan Still said his team allowed to many rebounds.
“What killed us in the first half was our rebounding, our boxing out,” he said.
“They had 14 [points off of] second-chance opportunities. That killed us.
“It should have been 17-7 at halftime. You can't make those mistakes against a good team like that.”
Led by senior Alexas Besand, the Wolves traded punch-for-punch with the Riders in the third quarter and for most of the fourth.
Besand scored a game-high 13 points, while Stofferahn had 10, including a deep 3-pointer over the defense of Jeffers with a minute left in the third that gave Sequim a 31-30 lead.
Jeffers responded with a layup of her own. Besand the ended the quarter with a jumper and started the fourth with a 3-pointer to put the Wolves head 36-32 — a lead they held until Johnson's steal and layup.
“Obviously, I'm sad, but I'm happy with how we were in it,” Still said.
“I'm really proud with how our girls played in the second half.”
If the Wolves beat Bremerton on Tuesday, they'll play Monday, Feb. 17, at Curtis High School in the opening round of the West Central District tournament.
If they win that game, they will get another shot the Roughriders (14-1, 16-3), who Sequim hasn't defeated since 2007.
“It hurts. They're hurting,” Still said of his players. “But we're still in the playoff hunt, and we're excited to get a chance to play them again.
“I told them [the Sequim players] and they kind of all agreed, 'I would trade two league losses for knocking them out of the playoffs.'
“They want to get them again. We feel like we could beat them.”
If the Wolves (9-6, 9-10) lose Tuesday and North Kitsap (8-7, 11-8) beats Olympic, then Sequim and North Kitsap would have a playoff game for the final spot in the district tournament.
Port Angeles' seniors will play their final home game Tuesday against Port Townsend (6-9, 9-10) at 7 p.m.
Port Angeles 45, Sequim 41
Port Angeles 9 12 11 13— 45
Sequim 10 7 16 8— 41
Port Angeles (45)
Boe 5, Hofer 2, Hinrichs 7, Jones 2, Johnson 11, Lee 6, Jeffers 6, Wheeler 6.
Cummins 2, Bentz 5, Stofferahn 10, Guan 3, Miller 2, Beuke 6, Besand 13.
Sports Editor Lee Horton can be reached at 360-417-3525 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.