SEQUIM — Gridlock is rarely experienced on the North Olympic Peninsula. But Port Angeles found itself stuck in stop-and-go traffic with rival Sequim, forced to play a grind-it-out halfcourt game, until finally breaking through in the final five minutes to pull out a 59-52 boys basketball win.
The Roughriders’ transition offense, a team strength, was nowhere to be seen for the first 27 minutes of the contest.
“Sequim defensively in transition was awesome,” Port Angeles coach Kasey Ulin said. “They stopped the ball early, they sprinted back and they protected the paint. Realistically, we didn’t push it as hard as we wanted, we didn’t advance the ball quick enough, we didn’t run the floor quick enough. I don’t know if that was our problem or if the credit should go to Sequim because they were so good in transition defense.”
But the Riders’ Kyle Benedict got Port Angeles in gear late, swiping three steals and scoring 10 straight points on two layups and two 3-point baskets as Port Angeles grew a one-point advantage into an insurmountable 54-45 lead with less than 2 minutes to play.
The Riders clamped down, taking advantage of the absence of Sequim point guard Nate Despain, who fouled out with six minutes to play.
“We took advantage of the scenario we had,” Benedict said. “We took advantage of their weakness in having their best guard out. I went back into the game and we got some good steals, got some buckets in transition and that got us going.”
Ulin said the loss of Despain was a gamechanger.
“He’s their floor general,” Ulin said. “He must have had six steals, his hands are everywhere, he gets rebounds, he makes big shots.
“We came out and we wanted to amp the pressure up. He’s their primary ball-handler, so once he went out we started trapping harder and definitely picked up the pressure. We got two or three steals out of it and a couple of layups.
“That was a gamechanger in the middle of the fourth.
“Sequim was playing very well, they were dialed in and they controlled most of that game. I’m proud of our guys for how resilient they were. They continued to fight and play hard even though we never played that well. We had that two or three minute stretch of the fourth where Kyle made some steals and made some shots and we relaxed and played our game there.”
The teams traded leads 15 times in a tight, action-packed contest in front of a capacity crowd at Rick Kaps Gym.
Sequim led 16-15 after one quarter, Port Angeles 26-25 at halftime. And the Wolves took a six-point lead at one point in the third quarter before the Riders closed within 41-40 heading to the fourth.
“That was fun, it was intense, it was back-and-forth, they were playing pretty well and Payton [Glasser] was tough,” Ulin said. “We would have lost that game last year, we weren’t tough enough to let them ride it out.
Glasser scored 26 points to lead all scorers. His baseline cut to the rim gave Sequim a 38-32 lead with 3:20 to play in the third.
“When we were down six in the third, I called timeout and challenged them,” Ulin said. “This is your game, this is your season, and right now Sequim wants it more than you. How do you change that?
A big three by the Riders’ Andrew Borde was followed by a corner trey from Sequim’s Rigo Langston. But some hard work by Garrett Edwards and Liam Clark inside helped Port Angeles trim its deficit and take a one-point lead 42-41 early in the fourth before Benedict’s offensive outburst.
Edwards led Port Angeles with 17 points. He scored 21 in the Riders’ 75-45 win over Sequim last month.
“Garrett picked us all up,” Benedict said. “We weren’t playing well offensively, but we stuck together defensively and we just grinded away.”
Ulin said he was impressed by Edwards’ focus.
“He rebounded well, he made some big shots,” Ulin said. “He’s kind of unfazed by pressure, he’s the one guy who can kind of go out and play regardless of the moment.
“Borde is another guy like that, a senior captain who came in off the bench and played most of the second half, hit a huge three, hit free throws down the stretch and defended well.”
Port Angeles did enough at the free throw line down the stretch (3 of 9 in the final 1:30) to hold off the Wolves.
“If we can stick together, execute and come out and get a win on the road like this, I’m happy,” Ulin said. “I mean the atmosphere was great, the crowd was awesome. It’s a tough place to play, the kids, I wouldn’t say they were emotional but the nerves were evident, so I was happy to see us late in the game kind of calm down, make some plays and come out with a huge road win.”
The Riders (6-1, 10-5) also got some help in the Olympic League 2A Division title chase when Olympic knocked off North Kitsap (6-1, 11-3) 55-50 Friday. Port Angeles hosts Bremerton (0-6, 0-13) Tuesday.
Sequim (3-4, 6-8) hosts Kingston (2-4, 3-11) on Tuesday with a chance to take firm control on the fourth seed to the district tournament. The Wolves beat Kingston 53-38 earlier this month.
Port Angeles 59, Sequim 52
PA 15 11 14 19— 59
Sequim 16 9 16 11— 52
Port Angeles (59) — Edwards 17, Benedict 11, Clark 7, McGuffey 6, Johnson 5, Schmidt 5, Borde 4, Joslin 4.
Sequim (52) — Glasser 26, Despain 9, Langston 6, Eaton 4, Christiansen 3, Williams 2, Whitney 2, Young.
Sports reporter/columnist Michael Carman can be contacted at 360-417-3525 or at email@example.com.