TACOMA — They just don’t know any better.
The Port Townsend boys basketball team won the same way it had all season against West Valley (Spokane) in the first round of the Class 2A state tournament at the Tacoma Dome on Wednesday night.
Begin with a slow start, mix in with some defense, a lot of Parker McClelland and some big shots by Aaron Gifford, and you get another gritty Redskins (22-1 overall) victory.
McClelland scored a game-high 21 points and Gifford notched four of the Redskins’ final five points to vault Port Townsend to a 45-41 win and a spot in the championship quarterfinals against River Ridge (18-6) at 8:30 tonight.
“I’ve got to go back to the character of this team,” Port Townsend coach John Stroeder said following his first win at the boys state tournament.
“We were down by nine at the half. That’s a lot at state. The kids just wanted to win this game.”
McClelland was first and foremost on that list, with seven rebounds, two assists and a blocked shot to go along with the game-high scoring output in his first state tournament game.
He carried the Redskins during a listless first half with 12 of the team’s 16 points as the rest of the squad adjusted to the bright lights and cavernous feel of the dome.
“It’s the first time we played in a place like this, so you kind of expected jitters,” McClelland said. “I tried to give us a spark. I could tell we kind of needed it.
“I wanted to at least try to keep it close.”
He accomplished just that as the Redskins went into the half down 25-16.
After trading small runs in the beginning of the third quarter, the Redskins went on a 6-0 run, fueled by three points apiece from Walker Wilson and Dakotah Pine to draw within one at 29-28.
West Valley’s James Cahalan knocked down a jump shot at the buzzer to give the Eagles (15-9) a 31-28 cushion going into the fourth quarter.
Port Townsend responded with an 8-2 run to begin the frame, capped by a McClelland baseline jump shot for a 36-33 lead.
West Valley’s Jordan Lupfer-Graham immediately hit a 3-pointer, part of a 15-point night, to tie it. He eventually put the Eagles ahead 41-40 with a pair of free throws with 1:11 remaining.
It was just in time to set up the stage for Gifford, who’s made a habit of coming up big in the closing seconds for the Redskins this year.
On Wednesday night, he broke out of a game-long funk with a six-foot runner off an entry pass from Pine for a 42-41 lead with 38 seconds to go.
“I was thinking too much,” Gifford said of the first 30 minutes in which he was held to just five points.
“When I didn’t think [on the game-winning play] I did the right thing.”
Pine came up with a steal on West Valley’s next possession.
Port Townsend’s Elan Solvik hit 1-of-2 free throws to put the Redskins ahead 43-41 with 25 second to go and came up with a steal on the other end.
Then Gifford closed out the game with two free throws to finish with nine points.
“It just shows how mentally tough he is to have a game like that and still hit a big shot with 38 seconds left,” McClelland said.
Added Stroeder, “He’s always there in the end for us.”
Pine had five points, three assists and two steals in the winning effort, while Ross Bringgold had four points and an assist. Solvik and Wilson each had three points.
The Redskins’ defense limited West Valley to 35.7-percent shooting in the second half while also forcing 12 turnovers. They also hit 60 percent of their shots (9 of 15) and had only two turnovers of their own in the final two quarters.
“Give the credit to the kids,” Stroeder said. “We didn’t make any adjustments at halftime. If we make our free throws, we win going away.”
Indeed, the Redskins hit just 12 of 25 shots from the charity stripe. McClelland was 5-of-13 by himself. He made up for it, however, by hitting 7-of-10 field-goal attempts.“Parker was huge,” Stroeder said.