PORT ANGELES — In their first basketball game in 14 long months, the Port Angeles boys were understandably nervous early, allowing an overmatched Klahowya team to hang around for the first eight minutes of the game Thursday.
But once the Roughriders got rolling, they showed they can be frighteningly good — and hungry after a year-long layoff caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Riders showed they have size with 6-foot-9 John Vaara, 6-5 Adam Watkins, 6-5 Wyatt Dunning, 6-4 Chase Cobb, blinding speed in Xander Maestas and Dru Clark and a shutdown defense that will force every team to work hard for every point.
“We have a bunch of big, strong kids. And we’re always about defending,” said coach Kasey Ulin.
The Riders won 83-31 over the Eagles in the their season opener, scoring 69 points over the final three periods and holding the Eagles to just 11 points in the second half.
The game was not only a season-opening victory, it was a victory just to get back on the court again.
“We’re just excited to be here. I can’t say enough about these kids. It’s been a long journey for these guys,” Ulin said.
“We’re going to try and enjoy every practise and every game.”
What was Ulin’s message to the team before the long-awaited game began?
“Just telling them to be who we are. This is a high-character team. These are team-first kids who come to play basketball,” he said.
Wyatt Dunning led the team with three 3-pointers and 23 points. When asked how it felt to be back on the court, Dunning said, “this is great. We played together well tonight. The first two quarters were a little rough.”
Dunning said he and many of his teammates stayed busy during the past year playing travel basketball in Idaho. He was confident the team would respond after a ragged start and after Klahowya actually managed to grab a lead.
“We knew they couldn’t mess with us,” he said.
The Riders had good balance with five players in double figure. Xavier Maestas used his speed to collect 16 points, Chase Cobb and Adam Watkins both had 10 points and John Vaara had 10 points, two of them coming on a spectacular dunk after he gobbled up a loose ball.
While Vaara’s dunk got the COVID-spaced crowd worked up, a pass by Dru Clark might have gotten even a bigger reaction. On a fast break, Clark passed the ball behind his back to Cobb waiting out on the wing, and he promptly drilled a 3-pointer. Ulin said Clark does that all the time in practise.
“It’s always on the money. Anyone else but Dru, that’s a horrible pass,” Ulin said.
Ulin thought his team was a “little tense” at the beginning after not playing since February 2020. “We weren’t letting the game come to us,” he said.
Klahowya actually held a brief lead about midway through the first quarter at 9-8. That’s when the Riders blew the game open with runs of 14-0 and 26-4. After the Eagles held that brief lead, the Riders outscored them 75-22 the rest of the way.
Port Angeles (1-0) next plays at home at 7 p.m. Monday against Olympic (1-0).
Port Angeles 83, Klahowya 31
Klah. 9 11 6 5 — 31
PA 14 25 18 26 — 83
Klahowya (31) — Leifeste 11, Lont 9, Slater 5, Kraft 5, Clarke 1.
Port Angeles (83) — Dunning 23, Maestas 16, Cobb 10, Watkins 10, Vaara 10, Clark 6, Hall 4, Wheeler 2, Soule 2.
Sports Editor Pierre LaBossiere can be contacted at [email protected]