The high school basketball playoffs have not been kind to the North Olympic Peninsula.
A week that started with five state tournament hopefuls — outside of the Neah Bay teams, of course — has been whittled down to just two going into this weekend.
Port Angeles’ girls and boys are all that remain of the area’s A school contingent.
That means it’s up to the Roughriders to extend the Peninsula A schools’ 11-year streak of sending at least one team to state.
The easiest road belongs to the girls (18-3 overall), who have two chances to punch a ticket to state.
That starts with Saturday night’s winner-to-state game against the defending Class 3A champion Kennedy Lancers (18-3) in Auburn at 8 p.m.
The Lancers bring back nearly the same team that stomped Port Angeles 68-32 in the first round of last year’s Class 3A West Central/Southwest Bi-District playoffs.
So Port Angeles girls coach Mike Knowles has no illusions about the Riders’ status going into Saturday night’s game.
“It’s going to be difficult,” Knowles said. “I would love to beat them, but we’re definitely the underdogs going in.”
The same might be said of the Rider boys, who start out in a do-or-die situation tonight against SPSL power Franklin Pierce (14-7).
While the boys won’t be dealing with a league champion like their girl counterparts, they will be facing a team that has won eight of its last 10 contests.
“On film they are the most talented team we’ve seen all year,” first-year coach Wes Armstrong said.
“The next team they would probably be comparable to is Bremerton.
“We definitely have to play our best game of the year [to win].”
If they can somehow manage to do that, the Riders must then beat the loser of Saturday’s Union-Kennedy game on Tuesday in another loser-out affair.
A win there would qualify the Riders for state.
PA girls game
The girls, of course, have the luxury of being able to lose Saturday’s game.
If they lose, they would play the winner of Saturday’s game between Sumner and Lakes on Wednesday.
It’s a good thing because beating the Seamount League champion Lancers will be a tall order.
Not only do they have the reigning 3A state player of the year in senior guard Yaz Fuller, they also have three others averaging double figures in scoring.
“They are a solid team and they are just real athletic,” Knowles said.
“They want to make it an up-tempo game, and we have to make sure we take care of the ball and don’t give them those opportunities to get out and run.”
Also lying in the background is the Riders’ struggles in postseason play.
Port Angeles is 0-5 in district and sub-district games despite winning at least a share of the Olympic League title each of the last three years.
That includes Wednesday’s 66-53 loss to Capital in a sub-district seeding game, which snapped a 13-game Rider win streak.
“They’ve done a great job [in practice],” Knowles said.
“They have come out and worked hard in practice and focused.
“They aren’t used to losing because they haven’t lost a lot.
“We’ve talked about it, and they said, ‘Hey, that’s behind us.'”
The Riders are no slouches themselves.
Leading scorer Jessica Madison (23.8 points per game) was named the Olympic League MVP for the second year in a row.
Senior teammate Skylar Jones was also a first-team selection at forward after averaging 10.7 points and 7.5 rebounds a game this season.
She will face a stiff challenge, however, in Kennedy’s 6-foot post Aminah Williams, who averages a team-high 16.1 points per game.
That being said, Knowles thinks the main opponent the Riders will have to deal with is Kennedy’s pressure.
“That’s why they beat us so easily last year,” Knowles said of Kennedy’s full-court press.
“It doesn’t matter who we play here on out, the games are going to be a lot tougher with more pressure. We’ve got to be able to handle that.”
It’s almost the same exact story for the boys.
Franklin Pierce is also super athletic, and just like Kennedy, the Cardinals bring full-court pressure all game long.
“They get pretty much 60 percent of their points off of transition,” Armstrong said. “So if we turn the ball over and don’t get back on defense, we’re in trouble.”
The Cardinals sport a three-headed monster at guard, with juniors Isaiah Hamlin (15.2), Trey Benton (12.1) and Anthony Bowden (11.4) the team’s main scoring options.
Franklin Pierce’s rotation also goes nine deep, allowing it to push the pace all game long.
Just one month ago, the Cardinals put up 106 points on Peninsula.
Port Angeles will try to counter by slowing down the tempo and making it a half-court game, Armstrong said.
“First of all, we’ve got to break the press,” he said.
“I think if we can get a couple of ball reversals and work the shot clock a little bit, we can get some easy opportunities.”
Much of that responsibility will fall on second-team all-league guard Antonio Stevenson, the Riders’ leading scorer (11.0 ppg) and point guard.
His main focus will be on trying to get the ball to posts Justin Williams (9.1 ppg) and Steven Rogers (9.0 ppg and 8.0 rpg) in a position to score.
Whenever the Riders have been able to do that this season, they’ve been successful.
It would certainly help if they can also play defense like they did in their 58-37 win in Monday night’s loser-out sub-district game against Yelm.
“Defensively, we’re real strong right now,” Armstrong said. “We’re going to hopefully ride that as we go here.“We’re really excited. I know a lot of people probably didn’t expect us to be in this position, but here we are grabbing one of the top four seeds to have a shot to make some noise.”