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Peninsula Daily News
PORT ANGELES — The Peninsula Pirates came through when their season was hanging in the balance in the final minutes of the last game of the regular season.
The Peninsula men scored the last 10 points of the game to beat Bellevue 69-63 on Saturday night and clinch a spot in next weekend’s NWAACC Championship tournament.
“It’s a long time coming,” Peninsula sophomore Djuan Smith said of making the postseason.
“We’ve had a rough year. We’re finally getting over the hump.
“We’re here, we’re ready, we’re going to have a hard week of practice and go into the championships strong.”
The Pirates open the tournament against Tacoma next Saturday at noon at the Toyota Center in Kennewick.
On Saturday night, the Pirates trailed 63-59 after a basket by Bellevue’s Tyler Stracener with just over two minutes remaining in the game.
On the ensuing possession, Peninsula grabbed three offensive boards before Smith scored to cut the deficit to two points.
A few moments later, Smith stole the ball and hooked up with Xavier Bazile to tie the game at 63.
On Bellevue’s next trip down the floor, Smith blocked a shot by 6-foot-7 Stracener.
“He’s 6-foot-2, plays like he’s 6-7,” Pirates coach Lance Von Vogt said of Smith.
“He made plays left and right. He kept us in it [with his offense] in the first half. He made defensive plays in the second half.”
It was the second time in the final five minutes that Smith swatted Stracener near the hoop.
“That’s just, at the end of the game, doing what it takes to win,” Smith said.
Smith finished with 19 points, eight rebounds and four blocks, despite spending most of the second half on the bench after picking up his fourth foul with 14:38 to play in the game.
Bazile followed Smith’s block with two free throws that gave the Pirates a 65-63 lead, and then Matt Visser jumped in front of a pass by Bellevue’s Andrew Holloway Jr. to set up the shot that would put the Bulldogs away.
With 10 seconds left, Aaron Clark banked in a 3-pointer that made the score 68-63 and all but ended the Bellevue’s postseason hopes.
The play didn’t go exactly as Von Vogt drew it up in the preceding timeout, but the coach noted that it was just one of many instances in which one of his players stepped up to help the Pirates get the victory.
“Big-time players make big-time plays at big-time moments,” Von Vogt said.
“I couldn’t be more proud of how our guys responded [in those] moments.”
And those were just the plays made in the last few minutes. Von Vogt rattled off a long list of players and plays that contributed to the win.
“It’s amazing what you can do when you unite, when you lock arms and you say, ‘I’m going to play for the man next to [me] rather than myself,’ ” Von Vogt said.
“Our team has grown a lot the last month. We’re not the same team we were a month ago; we’re not as talented, but I’ll tell you what, we’ve got guys that are willing to lay themselves down for the person next to them.
“That makes a difference when you’re in a tight contest with a great program such as Bellevue.”
Bazile topped all scorers with 27 points, including 11 for 14 shooting at the free-throw line, and had 10 rebounds and three steals.
TreShawn King Dunbar contributed 13 points and had six assists.
The Pirates go into the NWAACC tournament a changed, but confident team.
“We’ve got strong scorers like Xavier, Djuan, and a bunch of good role players behind them: me, TreShawn, Anthony Crouts, Matt Visser, G.P. [Gatpan Panaom],” Clark said.
“We just play our roles and let [Bazile and Smith] do what they do.”
By beating Bellevue, Peninsula avoided a difficult three-way tiebreaker scenario with Bellevue and Shoreline.
Had they lost Saturday, the Pirates would have hosted Shoreline at home tonight, and then if they won would have had to play at Bellevue on Tuesday in order to make the NWAACC Championships.
Instead, the Pirates head into the tournament with as much time to prepare as the other 15 teams.
Von Vogt has taken the Pirates to the NWAACC championships all three years he has been coaching at the college.
NOTES: Peninsula beat first-round opponent Tacoma 78-56 at the Clackamas tournament on Dec. 29.
The Pirates had five sophomores playing their final home games at Peninsula College: Crouts, Donald Gaddy, Panaom, Smith and former Port Angeles High School standout Ian Ward.
Bellevue 76, Peninsula 61
PORT ANGELES — The shorthanded and undersized Pirates tied the score at 54 with 8:25 to play in the game before the Bulldogs put the game away with a 22-7 run.
With the win, Bellevue clinched the NWAACC Northern Division title.
As the North Division’s fourth-place team, Peninsula also will be moving on to the NWAACC championship tournament in Kennewick next weekend.
The Pirates will face Centralia on Saturday at 2 p.m.
In Saturday’s setback, Peninsula’s Jesse Ellis scored a game-high 22 points on 10 for 18 shooting, and pulled down eight rebounds and had four assists.
Jasmine Yarde scored 12 and had nine assists and eight boards, while Abby Jones had 10 points, nine rebounds and four assists.
The Pirates were without leading scorer Taylor Larson and top shot-blocker Jonica Durbin was limited because of a hand injury.
This put Peninsula at a considerable size disadvantage, but it still managed to out-rebound the much taller Bulldogs 48 to 42.
The Pirates also assisted on 26 of their 27 field goals.
Larson, the school’s all-time leading scorer, missed her second consecutive game with a partial anterior cruciate ligament tear.
Peninsula coach Alison Crumb said it is unlikely Larson will be cleared to play in the NWAACC tournament.
“There is a very small chance, but there is a chance. We’re just going to have to wait and see,” Crumb said.
“We have a solid week of practice before [the tournament], so we’re going to be able to have time to adjust to missing Taylor.
The Pirates celebrated their seven sophomores — Durbin, Jones, Karli Brakes, Ellis, Yarde, Larson and Leisl Brown — after the game.
“The game, whether we won or lost, wasn’t an issue as far as going to playoffs or seeding,” Crumb said.
“So, we just came out and wanted to celebrate the group that we have, and have fun playing.”