PORT ANGELES — The Olympic League schedule is no longer a string of double-digit blowouts for the Port Angeles girls basketball team.
As the Roughriders’ 48-47 victory over Olympic illustrated Friday night, they’re going to have to grind it out every night in a wide-open league race.
Senior forward Kiah Jones sank two clutch free throws late in the fourth quarter and the Riders dodged a couple of bullets in the final 30 seconds to win their second straight.
Port Angeles (2-1 in league, 2-2 overall) survived a furious rally from Olympic (1-2, 1-3) that saw it come back from 10 points down before giving back its own three-point lead late.
“It’s a little nerve-wracking [playing in close games], but we’re starting to learn how to deal with those emotions when we’re behind,” said Jones, a four-year player who had lost just one league game before this season. “I think it’s a good learning experience, especially for those closer games in the postseason. It’s fun, it’s exciting.”
Of course, things weren’t quite as enjoyable for Olympic and star Ashli Payne.
The four-year varsity post had 16 points, scoring at will on a variety of post moves and dribble drives.
Yet Payne was unable to sink a turnaround on the right block over Jones that would have given the Trojans a three-point lead with 27 seconds remaining.
And after she was fouled on an off-ball cut under the hoop with 11 seconds to go, she missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw with Olympic trailing 48-47.
The Trojans got one last shot after the Riders turned over the inbound play, but Jalyn Halstead’s 18-footer missed at the buzzer.
“Games are won and lost in the first quarter, the second quarter, the third quarter, not just at the end,” Olympic head coach Laurie Shaw said.
“It never helps to miss a couple of free throws late in the game, but like I told [Payne], it’s not those that cost us the game, it’s every shot we missed.”
Payne didn’t miss many Friday, sinking 6 of 10 shots and grabbing nine rebounds.
Guard Savannah Quitevis scored 10 of her 16 points in the fourth quarter, including a pair of 3-pointers, to help rally the Trojans back from a 40-30 deficit.
Olympic went ahead by three twice in the final two minutes, one off a Quitevis backdoor lay-up and another off two Payne free throws that put the Trojans ahead 47-44 with 1:08 left.
Port Angeles answered both immediately, with Paxton Rodocker coming up with a left-handed lay-up on a press break, and Kathryn Moseley sinking a 10-footer in the lane that put the score at 47-46.
Payne had a look at the rim on the Trojans’ next possession but couldn’t make the shot under heavy pressure from Jones.
“[During the timeout] we kind of talked about when she gets the ball, I’ll guard her but I’m not going to foul her,” Jones said. “I definitely was trying to deny her at the end, which worked well.”
Jones rebounded the miss over Payne and was fouled, putting her at the line for the game-winning free throws.
“I was nervous but calm in a weird way,” Jones said.
“I knew I had to make them, so I was not thinking about missing them. I was thinking, OK, these are going in.”
Jones led all Rider scorers with 12 points and seven rebounds despite not playing in the first quarter because she missed a practice for club volleyball.
Sophomore guard Madison Hinrichs filled the void during that stretch, scoring seven of her nine points in the first quarter.
Moseley and sophomore Krista Johnson each added nine points on the game. Hinrichs, Moseley and Rodocker each had two assists as well.
Port Angeles struggled to find offensive rhythm, however, sinking just 17 of 60 shots.
While the Trojans shot much better (18 of 43), they turned the ball over 19 times, with 15 coming in the first half when Port Angeles built a 24-20 lead.
The Riders went ahead 35-28 by the end of the third quarter and took a 40-30 lead after Johnson sank her third 3 of the game with 7:08 to go.
Olympic turned on the full-court press after that, and things got interesting.
“There’s so much new to these kids, and it’s just going to take time,” first-year Riders coach Michael Poindexter said. “I don’t think we’ll have it all together until January.
“I was impressed with their maturity down the stretch. We didn’t have a lot of timeouts to call, so they had to just play.
“It’s a testament to their maturity that we held up as well as we did in a close game and they didn’t buckle with them losing that lead.”
Port Angeles next hosts Port Townsend on Monday as part of a three-game week that includes matchups at Bremerton on Wednesday and home to Klahowya on Friday.
Those are the sorts of games the Riders used to tear through the past three years when they won outright Olympic League crowns with a 47-1 record.
That’s likely not the case anymore.
“Everybody knows that, too,” Poindexter said.
“This is probably going to be a multiple-team race.
“This is a knock-down, drag-out league, and I think it’s going to be a lot of fun, close basketball.
“We’re going to be playing close games all season.”
Port Angeles 48, Olympic 47
Olympic 12 8 8 19 — 47
Port Angeles 14 10 11 13 — 48
Lagat 3, Quitevis 16, Sebastian 3, Taporco 2, Payne 16, Halstead 6.
Port Angeles (48)K. Jones 12, Hinrichs 9, B. Jones 4, Moseley 9, Johnson 9, Rodocker 2, Jeffers 3.