PORT ANGELES — That’s more like it.
Port Angeles got back to passing to each other and playing for one another in an important 48-33 girls basketball victory over Bremerton.
Friday’s win allowed the Roughriders (5-4, 8-8) to go up a game on the Knights for the Olympic League 2A Division’s fourth seed to the district playoffs.
Port Angeles also kept pace with Kingston (5-4, 9-7) for a shot at the league’s third district slot.
The Riders have now split their season series with Bremerton, and have a chance to split with Kingston if they can beat the Buccaneers at home Thursday, Feb. 2.
After a poor offensive showing in 45-27 loss against league-leading North Kitsap last Tuesday, Port Angeles played steady if not spectacularly in running out to an 11-8 lead after one quarter against Bremerton.
Aeverie Politika keyed the early attack, coming off the bench to score six points in the opening frame.
“Those six points were important,” Riders coach Michael Poindexter said.
A move into a trapping 1-3-1 zone defense in the second quarter helped Port Angeles clamp down defensively and hold the Knights to just five points in the period.
“We move really well in our 1-3-1 zone,” Poindexter said.
“And having Natalie Steinman at the bottom of that zone … I think she is an elite on-ball defender and steal producer. She’s good.”
The Riders also showed off a little more zip in their offensive sets with the ball moving crisply in and out of the post and around the perimeter against Bremerton’s own zone defenses.
After running into trouble against North Kitsap, Poindexter said his players focused on the passing game.
“That’s all we’ve done [pass] in practice since North Kitsap,” he said.
“And it’s not like those are new skills. It’s that they lost their skill level on Tuesday because their emotional response to the pressure got to them and their skills went down the drain.
“Tonight, we put a lot of focus on keeping that confidence up and not letting a mistake wither you.”
Or have mistakes wither the bonds between teammates, according to junior Cheyenne Wheeler.
Wheeler said a team meeting helped center the Riders.
“It’s a confidence booster for us,” Wheeler said of the win. “Our team chemistry was better this time, and we didn’t get after each other. We just shook off the mistakes. We were getting upset and getting in our own heads and it would impact our confidence [in previous losses].
Wheeler was the beneficiary of a laser-like pass inside from Lauren Lunt for a layup midway through the second quarter. Lunt followed up with a 3-pointer on the Riders’ next trip down for an 18-9 lead with 4:23 to go until halftime.
Port Angeles held a 23-13 lead at halftime and the Riders’ lead grew to 35-18 after three quarters.
Nizhoni Wheeler scored five of her game-high 15 points in the third, including a 3-pointer from the top of the key in answer to a trey by Bremerton’s Micheala Derda on the Knights’ previous possession.
As the focal of the Knights’ defense, Nizhoni Wheeler floated between the high post, the perimeter and the low post all game long.
“She was extremely effective in getting open in the second half,” Poindexter said.
“I thought Nizhoni had one of her better games. She did all the right things.”
Cheyenne Wheeler added 10 points while continually hounding Bremerton ball handlers.
“She was a good aggressive,” Poindexter said. “On the ball, in control. I thought she played a terrific game.”
Port Angeles is off until hosting rival Sequim at 5:15 p.m. Friday.
Port Angeles 48, Bremerton 33
Bremerton 8 5 5 15— 33
Port Angeles 11 12 12 13— 48
Bremerton (33) — Derda 14, Lamoureaux 8, Heriford 3, Godinez-Gonzalez 3, Smith 2.
Port Angeles (48) — N. Wheeler 15, C. Wheeler 10, Politika 6, Lunt 6, Edwards 5, Wenzl 3, McGuffey 2, Brady 1, Steinman, Long, Gray.
Sports reporter/columnist Michael Carman can be contacted at 360-417-3525 or at [email protected]