PORT ANGELES — Port Angeles held off a feisty Fife squad to open the district boys basketball tournament with a hard-fought 62-50 win over the Spartans on Thursday night.
The No. 7 Roughriders (16-5) advance to face Clover Park (11-8) in a winner-to-state regionals contest at Clover Park at 7 p.m. Saturday.
In Thursday’s win, Port Angeles weathered foul trouble, turnovers and some overly aggressive defense late to hang on for an important playoff victory.
“Yeah, at times we threw the ball places and forced it when we didn’t need to,” Port Angeles senior Anton Kathol said. “We ran and jumped the pass instead of making a jump stop, I know I did that at least once.”
The Riders held a 44-29 lead entering the fourth quarter that Fife whittled to within 52-44 with 3:10 to play in the fourth. Port Angeles sent the Spartans to the free-throw line four times in the fourth and Fife knocked down all eight to keep the game tight.
“Give credit to Fife,” Riders coach Kasey Ulin said. “Their kids made plays, continued to fight and never quit.”
Port Angeles got the defensive stops it needed down the stretch. Riders’ senior post Damen Ringgold had two important baskets inside and Port Angeles went a collective 6 for 6 at the free-throw line in the final two minutes to close out the win. Dru Clark had four of those freebies, while Chase Cobb added the final touches with 31.9 seconds left.
“I just love our grit, our toughness and togetherness,” Ulin said. “That’s something we preach and talk about but it’s something I felt we stuck with tonight late.”
Early on, Port Angeles was forced to go deep into it’s bench with Kathol picking up two quick fouls in the first four minutes.
“The refs have my name, they know who I am,” Kathol said of the early whistles.
Kathol had a good view on the bench in the second quarter as the Riders’ bench put in some work on both ends of the floor to go up 27-15 at halftime.
“Our bench was the reason we had that lead at halftime,” Ulin said. “Stu [Methner] came in and was awesome. John [Vaara] was huge.
“We just really couldn’t get it going quite yet, we were defending well but John comes in and gets three big buckets right in a row. John was awesome tonight. He was physical in the zone. He took up space, he challenged shots, but the way he was able to be aggressive, to be strong with the ball and score — it was huge for us.
“That second group was so big for us. Our depth paid off.”
Kathol was more than enthused about the contribution from the 6-foot-8 Vaara.
“Big John, oh my God,” Kathol said. “If he does what he did tonight in every game at districts we are state-bound, my goodness. It’s a confidence thing, I think ,and we’ve been building him up all year because we know how important he can be.”
Kathol checked back in to open the second half and Port Angeles looked for him in their halfcourt sets early on. He rewarded their efforts to find him inside with a couple of quick baskets. Kathol scored all eight of his points in the second half.
“It was definitely that [trying to get him going early],” Kathol said. “I got a couple of touches inside to get it going.”
Damen Ringgold also got involved inside in the second half, scoring 10 of his game-high 15 points under constant pressure down low.
Kathol thought the team displayed some inner resolve when pressured late.
“We were confident,” Kathol said. “We have that BDA [mentality]. Box-out, play defense, team-first attitude. We were confident, we let up a couple of times but we finished it out.”
Ulin was relieved to get the win and happy for the most part with the ending.
“The last three or four minutes we did a really good job of handling their pressure, stepping up to the line and shooting with confidence and finally getting some stops,” Ulin said. “We weren’t very disciplined late defensively, too many fouls. We have to be a little bit better at defending without fouling.”
Clover Park will present a stiff test with a state regional spot up for grabs.
“Now we get Clover Park on the road and it’s going to be our most difficult game,” Ulin said. “To be able to go to their place and win on the road, it’s going to be a big challenge for us.
“They are fast and athletic, they get up and down and they have a 6-foot-7 guy who is physical. They can present some matchup problems. They are like Bremerton but with a big guy. It’s going to take our best effort.”
Port Angeles 62, Fife 50
Fife 10 5 14 21— 50
Port Angeles 14 13 17 18— 62
Fife (50) — Dizon 10, Steimle 10, Messiah 9, Gonzalez-Cortez 6, Graham 2, Lawhead 2.