Pirates at State 2008

Mar 1, 2008
by Charlie Pieterick
February 28, 2008 - Max Burnham slices to the basket in a losing effort against a determined White Swan team in the second round of the State Tournament. Vashon lost 42-46.
The Vashon High School boys’ and girls’ basketball teams both participated in the 1A State Basketball Tournament at the Yakima SunDome last week.  It is an accomplishment to make the tournament. In the weeks leading up to it, teams across the state battle in post-season district tournaments to win one of sixteen spots in each division.

The “Dome” is home to the Yakima Sun Kings, a professional Continental Basketball Association (CBA) team, as well as serving as an exhibition hall.  It is large enough to hold two full-sized basketball courts and has ample seating for the sizeable crowds who come to cheer on their schools.  Boys’ and girls’ games are played simultaneously from 9AM to 9PM on the first two days, 8 games in each division.  By day #3, 4 teams from each division have been eliminated in the “two losses and out” format.  Outside the courts, under the stands, is a full range of food and souvenir sales.  

The Sundome was just waking up as the boys filed in to take the court for the tournament’s opening game on Wednesday.  The Pirate boys, with their 20-4 record and reigning Nisqually League champs, were listed among the top quartile of teams at the tournament by the Yakima Herald-Republic on the first day of the tournament.  Their first opponent, Toledo, with a 13-11 record, was considered a “dark horse”.  But as Pirate coach Andy Sears said later, “Every team at this tournament is here because of their success.  Their records are not that important.  These are all good teams.”  

Indeed!  And like Vashon, several of the programs were represented by both their boys’ and girls’ teams, indicating that these communities take their basketball seriously! Doubly represented were Bellevue Christian, Connell, Granger, Lakeside (9 Mile Falls), and Toledo.  

Day #1

Maybe it was the early hour, but 2-and-a-half minutes into the first game, the Pirates had only managed 2 points to Toledo’s zero.  In an effort to inject some virtual “caffeine” into his team, Coach Andy Sears subbed in Matt Kerns and Chris Pieterick.  Pieterick, in particular, usually brings an intensity to the game that is palpable to teammates and fans alike.  Before the Indians could blink an eye, he showed up under the basket and Pirate post, John Gage, found him for 2.  Pieterick followed that with a 3.  When Calhoun hit a 3 with 2 seconds left in the quarter.  The Pirates held a 12-6 advantage.

Pirate scoring in the second period was all Calhoun and Gage. Gage benefited from a couple of nifty assists underneath from Calhoun, and Calhoun hit two shots of his own.  At the half, the Pirates held a 25-21 lead.

The Pirates had an excellent 3rd quarter, outscoring Toledo 17-10.  They showed good ball movement and a varied selection of slashing drives (Pieterick and Burnham), interior passing (Pieterick to Gage to Odin Jacobovitch for 2), and a Jacobovitch back-down for 2 more.  By the end of the quarter, they appeared firmly in control with a 42-31 lead.

Early in the 4th quarter, Toledo switched to a press and found what became the Pirate’s tournament Achilles heal.  Pirate turnovers and a sinking shot percentage allowed the Indians back in the game as they whittled the lead to 2 on a 15-4 run.  It was only by 6 for 7 foul shooting down the stretch that the Pirates survived this squeaker, 55-54.

Pirate Points:  Gage 17 (11 RB), Pieterick 14, Calhoun 9, Burnham 7 (7 RB), Jacobovitch 4, Matt Kerns 2, Hoffman 2, Alex Wegner.  FT 10/13 (77%).

Day #2

The boys faced the White Swan Cougars on Thursday. White Swan is a small town on the Yakima Indian Reservation, southwest of Yakima.  The team is the pride of  Native Americans from all around Yakima.  The SunDome for them is “home court”.  Fans come from on and off the reservation to pack the stands for their tournament games.  They are a formidable force.  

The Pirates were not without support of their own, however.  The usual hard core fans (parents, grandparents, cheerleaders, and close friends) were there.  But there was also a surprising number of non-related Vashon fans and a significant representation of the student body, including the Pirate Band with director, Mike Scott.  
Southeast Washington basketball is characterized by a scrappy, aggressive style of play.  Teams typically have a heavy mixture of Hispanic kids. In the case of White Swan, the kids are Native American.  These teams tend to be small and quick. They claw and grab with quick hands.  They move their feet well and are quick to the ball on defense. On offense, they attack the basket mercilessly with quick penetration, late dishes, and an  ability to athletically finish some improbable shots.  

The team’s coaches had apparently scouted the Pirates the previous day, noting the problems that the Toledo press had given Vashon.  The Cougars pressed the Pirates from the start, forcing several early Pirate turnovers.  Within the first minute, they had preyed on two Pirate possessions for scores.  Pirate coach Andy Sears called a time-out to settle his boys down.

Out of the break, Pirate Charlie Hoffman forced a Cougar turnover when he took a charge.  A short time later, freshman starter Alex Wegner, took the ball to the rack and was fouled.  His two made free-throws were the Pirates’ first points of the game and the Pirates appeared to have regained some composure.  

But White Swan continued to plague the Pirates with their aggressive defensive style going up 10-4.  The Pirates closed the gap to 9-12 when Kerns dumped in 3 from the corner just before the quarter break.

Out of the break, Pirate Max Burnham took a charge to force another Cougar turnover.  Gage then hit a baseline 8 foot jumper.  Chris Pieterick drove in and muscled up a double-pump lay-up that rolled off the rim but collected the resulting free-throws. That gave the Pirates their first lead of the game, 13-12 at 6:03 in the 2nd quarter.

The two teams battled closely throughout the remainder of the half.  The Pirates showed they could run with the Cougars when Alex Wegner had a steal and found Justin Calhoun down court on the fast-break for a lay-up.  Later on, Burnham took a long pass off the inbound and scored on a little runner.  But whatever the Pirates threw at White Swan, the Cougars always answered back.  Their last score of the half was a 3-pointer with 10 seconds remaining, getting them to within one of the Pirates, 22-21.

White Swan upped the intensity of the press coming out of the half going on a 6-0 run off Pirate turnovers.  When the Pirates did make it down court, they looked tentative on offense and either missed shots or made additional unforced errors.  

Despite the pressure, the Pirates did not give up.  Hoffman took 2 inside.  Pieterick drove the lane and dished to Calhoun for another inside basket.  Gage, going up against the smaller Cougars’ posts, often hanging off his arms, kicked a pass out to Pieterick for a 3.  This tied the game at 29-29.  Calhoun had another 3 to put the Pirates up again.  But White Swan responded with two before the 3rd quarter break to get back within one, 32-31.

After 3 lead changes in the opening 2 minutes of the 4th quarter, White Swan took the lead for good.  Poor Pirate shooting plagued Vashon until late 3’s by Burnham and Gage trimmed their deficit to one with only 53 seconds remaining.  However, after one last turnover, and forced to foul to regain possession, the Pirates ended up losing 42-46.

Pirate Points:  Calhoun 9, Gage 8 (15 RB), Burnham 8, Pieterick 7, Matt Kerns 3, Alex Wegner 3, Hoffman 2, Jacobovitch, Elias Weston.  FT 9/14 (64%).  Turnovers: Pirates = 26.  White Swan = 23.

Day #3

The Brewster Bears have been in the championship game at 1-A State in the past 6 consecutive tournaments.  They won it all in 2003, 2004, and 2007. While only sporting a 16-10 record coming to State this year, they were getting back a key player from a season-long injury status and were expected to do well.  

While Vashon was licking its wounds from their disappointing loss to White Swan, Brewster was coming off an even narrower loss to River View (who lost the championship game to Charles Wright Academy on Saturday).  The Pirates and the Bears felt they had something to prove, though Brewster perhaps more so.

The Pirates turned the ball over several times in the opening minutes.  Good defense against the Bears and a couple of hustle plays by the Pirates’ Max Burnham kept these mishaps from burning the Pirates badly, however.  But Brewster did push ahead on a 7-0 run before Gage hit a jumper from 12 feet and Chris Pieterick took a lead pass from Burnham for a fast break 2.  Two subsequent Brewster scores were answered by a 3 from Burnham and a baseline drive with an under the hoop reverse lay-in by Gage to close the quarter, Pirates 9 – Bears 10.

Good Pirate rebounding and defense, including Gage’s second block of the game and a strip by Odin Jacobovitch, kept Brewster from scoring early in the second period.  When they did finally score, the Pirates answered with a 3 from Pieterick to tie it at 12.  Each team suffered turnovers at the hands of the others’ aggressive defenses, keeping the score knotted at 14 when the half ended.

The 3rd period was closely fought with 7 lead changes.  Both teams’ defenses continued to pressure.  The Pirates again struggled with turnovers against the Brewster press and Brewster had difficulty finding seams in the Pirate man-to-man and extended zone defenses.  

Following a couple of scores by the Pirate big men, Gage and Charlie Hoffman, the remainder of the 3rd period scoring was by point guard Burnham who drove to the rim twice, once for a lay-up and another for a leaner.  The resulting 2 scores (plus an and-1 free throw) kept the Pirates in the game.  The Pirates failed to score on their final quarter’s possession, however, and remained behind 25-28.

Burnham picked up where he left off in the 4rd quarter by slashing for a reverse.  The resulting one point deficit, was the closest the Pirates would ever get again, however. Having fought against the tide of too many turnovers, they appeared to run out of gas and could not mount any more charges.  The Bears slowly pulled away with their 48-36 victory in hand.   Brewster eventually went on to place 4th on Saturday while the Pirate boys returned home without a placing. The Pirate boys finished their season with a 21-6 record and the Nisqually League title.  

Pirate Points:  Gage 11 (13 RB), Burnham 14, Pieterick 8, Hoffman 3, Calhoun, Matt Kerns, Jacobovitch, Alex Wegner, Elias Weston.  FT 5/7 (71%).  Turnovers: Pirates = 19.  Brewster = 10.

Asked to comment on the year, the boys’ team sole senior, Justin Calhoun, said that it had been a good experience.  “ Just making it to State is a huge accomplishment for us, especially after losing the players we did late in the season.”    He went on to commend his teammates after having gone to battle with them at State.  “I love these guys.  They are like family to me.”  As for advice for next season, he replies without hesitation, “Stay strong.  Fix what we need to do to get better.  Keep doing what we do well.”

Coach Sears gave the boys credit for getting as far as they did, especially given the emotional roller coaster of the past few weeks.  “The boys are disappointed now. But in a few days, they will look back on the season with satisfaction at what they accomplished.  They won a lot of games against good teams as well as a league championship.  They’ll be real proud of themselves.”  

As for preparing for next year, he replies, “We need to address how to play with physicality.  We will focus on the weight room, basketball fundamentals, and correcting the little things that hurt us throughout the year and at the tournament.”