PORT ANGELES — With a state regional round berth on the line in its Class 2A West Central District tournament opener against Eatonville Friday night, you could forgive the Port Angeles girls basketball team for being a little excited to get going.
The Roughriders (17-4) looked a little rushed to open the contest, made some bad passes and had a hard time holding onto the ball, keeping the Cruisers close for the first quarter.
But the veteran Port Angeles squad adjusted, went on a big run to open up space in the second quarter and cruised past Eatonville 65-24 thanks to some strong bench play, some excellent passing and strong finishing inside by Eve Burke and Jaida Wood.
The win sealed the Riders’ fifth-consecutive trip to the Class 2A State Regional Round as well as a district semifinal matchup with Franklin Pierce on Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Rogers (Puyallup) High School.
“It was just a little too much of really wanting to do well,” coach Michael Poindexter said of Friday’s game.
“The kids got into attack mode and started second-guessing themselves which caused some hesitation. And if something went wrong, it was ‘Don’t do that again.’ We were a little tight.
“When we got a little tired, game-tiredness set in, we got a lot better.”
Wood said the eight-day layoff between Port Angeles’ final regular-season game and the district quarterfinal and some poor passing against Eatonville’s 1-3-1 zone had a little to do with the slower-than-usual beginning.
“We had bad passes at the start,” Wood said. “We weren’t faking the pass, and you should fake and then pass it.”
The 1-3-1 zone defense was the Riders’ bread-and-butter in recent seasons, so the early struggles were a little unexpected.
“We should be familiar with it enough, you’d think,” Poindexter said. “We put it on the shelf this year and we had to break it out at practice. But we knew what to do. And it took us a little time but we got it going.”
Wood, who said the team was playing a little frantic in the beginning, was a steady presence, scoring 10 of her 14 points in the first half.
Reserves also contributed with Jenna McGoff coming in early to hit a 3-pointer and Myra Walker scoring at the first-quarter buzzer and early in the second period.
A 13-2 Riders’ run over 3:14 of the second quarter pushed Port Angeles to a 30-16 halftime lead.
The bench kept the contributions coming after the break as Camille Stensgard, Catie Brown and Jayde Gedelman all knocked down 3s and Walker scrapped inside for rebounds.
”Jenna, Camille, Catie and Jade all hit 3s and I told them that’s a double-figure player coming off the bench,” Poindexter said. “You combine their 3-point shooting and it was 4 of 6 — and that’s huge. Myra gets a little lay-in early in the first half and those plays add up.
“We told our kids that you have to be ready to hit that one shot. And if you are all ready to hit that one shot, all the better.”
Burke blended into the baseline scenery to begin the third quarter, cutting to the rim and scoring three consecutive baskets, all set up by Millie Long’s pinpoint passes through the paint.
Their ability to link up drew praise from Poindexter.
“She and Eve are a nice combo,” Poindexter said. “Millie is the best passer I’ve ever coached in a lot of years of coaching and Eve has the best sense of space on the floor of any player I’ve ever coached. And I would have said that last year [as a freshman].”
Wood said even though they know what’s coming from Burke at practice, she’s still able to find room to maneuver inside.
“All the time, she gets us at practice all the time,” Wood said. “We know Eve’s game really well and she still gets us all the time.”
Port Angeles also moved into the No. 9 spot in the state’s RPI after Friday’s games. If the Riders can move into the top eight by the end of their district run, they’ll head to the state tournament in Yakima for the third straight season. The RPI takes into account a team’s winning percentage (40 percent), opponent’s winning percentage (40 percent) and opponents’ opponent’s winning percentage (20 percent). The Riders have the 10th best strength of schedule through Friday in Class 2A, but Poindexter knows the only thing Port Angeles can control — it’s own performance.
“We just need to keep winning,” Poindexter said.
Port Angeles 65, Eatonville 24
Eatonville 8 8 4 4— 24
Port Angeles 13 17 16 19— 65
Eatonville (24) — Rath 8, Hutchings 8, Stewart 4, Lucht 2, Mervyn 2.