PORT ANGELES — Missing several key players, the Peninsula College women’s basketball team got off to an 0-2 start this season.
Not an auspicious start to a team that was the preseason No. 1 pick in the Northwest Athletic Conference.
However, most of those key players have returned to the team, including starter Millie Long, and the women showed they are for real, going 3-0 this weekend in the Pirate Classic Tournament held in Port Angeles.
The women capped off their turnaround by holding off No. 2-ranked and defending NWAC champion Lower Columbia 63-55 on Sunday night.
The Pirates also beat Chemeketa 87-61 and Northwest Indian College 69-43 at the tournament.
In fact, it was a perfect 5-0 tournament for Peninsula College as the men’s team won a pair of games (see other story below).
The PC and LCC women met last year in the NWAC championship game with Lower Columbia winning on a buzzer-beating 3-point shot in overtime.
In Sunday night’s game, five Olympic Peninsula high school players were in the gym, though only four played. Long of Port Angeles, Ruth Moss of Neah Bay and Gina Smith of Port Townsend/Quilcene all played for Peninsula, while Courtney Swan of Neah Bay played for Lower Columbia. Bailee Larson of Port Angeles plays for Lower Columbia but didn’t get into Sunday’s game.
The Pirates got off to a fantastic start against the Red Devils, vaulting out to a 40-21 halftime lead, thanks largely to the great play of their post Ituau Tuisaula. Tuisaula was almost unstoppable in the post and had 15 points in the first quarter. In the second quarter, she had to sit due to foul trouble.
The Red Devils came out fired up in the second half, cutting that huge lead down to one possession late in the fourth quarter. Peninsula head coach Alison Crumb expected Lower Columbia to make a big run in the second half.
“We knew they would come out like that,” Crumb said. “I’m just really proud of our players that they withstood it.”
The Red Devils went on a 12-2 run to cut the score to 42-33, with their big scorer Jazlynn Novelli taking over. Novelli scored 16 points in the second half. Tuisaula picked up another foul and Brown had to go in to defend Lower Columbia’s strong post player Aivine Soakai. Lower Columbia didn’t hide its strategy one bit — with Tuisaula out of the game, they went aggressively after Brown.
Soakai got a couple of buckets, scoring seven points in the third quarter, but Brown held her own, though Soakai is bigger and stronger.
“Gina in the second half came out with a purpose,” Crumb said.
“I knew she was bigger than me,” Brown said. “My mindset was I couldn’t let her [Soakai] shoot.”
With Tuisaula fouled out, the Red Devils managed to cut the score again to 58-55 after a basket by Novelli with 1:05 left in the game.
Brown drew a foul and made one of two free throws to make it a two-possession game at 59-55 with 55 seconds left.
Long made one of two free throws with 40 seconds left to make it 60-55, then Long followed up with the play of the game. With 30 seconds left, she stole the ball in the frontcourt and drove hard to the basket, drawing a foul. Her shot rolled in for a perfect ending to the play. She sank her free throw for a three-point play to ice the game at 63-55 with 26 seconds left.
“That’s Millie doing Millie things,” Crumb said. “She’s so incredibly talented, I let her go. Anyone else I would have called a timeout,” Crumb said.
Crumb said the two losses to begin the season “might have been the best thing for us. It showed us how vulnerable we are when we don’t work and don’t compete.”
Long finished with 14 points, seven boards, five assists and three steals. Jenilee Donovan made a pair of 3-pointers and scored 14. Brown finished with five points and seven rebounds. Swan and Moss each scored two points.
In the Pirates’ win over Chemeketa, Tuisaula had 20 points and 12 rebounds, while Long had 17 points. Adam Kaganak scored 13 and Moss scored nine.
In the win over Northwest Indian College, Long scored 18, Kaganak and Tati Kamae each scored 14 and Moss scored 12.
Peninsula (3-2) plays at Big Bend (2-3) on Friday. The Pirates get a rematch with Lower Columbia on Saturday.
Peninsula 63, Lower Columbia 55
LC10 11 21 13 — 55
PC23 17 9 14 — 63
Lower Columbia (55) — Novelli 22, Soakai 17, Forner 8, Mace 4, Swan 2.
Peninsula (63) — Tuisaula 21, Long 14, Donovan 14, Brown 5, Marini 4, Kaganak 3, Moss 2.
Peninsula 69, NWIC 43
NWIC 5 8 18 12 — 43
PC10 12 26 21 — 69
NWIC (43) — Bighorn 19, W. Mills 6, T. Mills 6, G. Mills 4, N. Mills 4, Wolgemuth 2, Quasula 2.
PC (69) — Long 18, Kamae 14, Kaganak 14, Moss 12, Tuisaula 5, Donovan 2, Marini 2, Vaaia 2.
Peninsula 87, Chemeketa 61
CC16 11 20 14 — 61
PC23 18 23 23 — 87
CC (61) — Hobbs 15, Smith-Francis 13, Kent 13, Glenzel 8, Bailey 6, Tyler 3, Pedersen 3.
PC (87) — Tuisaula 20, Long 17, Kaganak 13, Moss 9, Kamae 9, Donovan 7, Hopson 6, Marini 3, Brown 2, Vaaia 1.