South Kitsap survives Southridge, 56-50

At the Class 4A boy’s state basketball tournament, anything can happen. And Wednesday night, the Southridge Suns proved that and almost more.

Playing tough and physical from the opening tip, the Suns of Kennewick threw the mother of all scares at South Kitsap in the opening round being played at the Tacoma Dome, pushing the favored Wolves to the brink before bowing out, 56-50.

“I think we came in and under-estimated them a little bit,” South guard Tippy Burk said. “They were better than we thought they were. They obviously played harder than we did.”

The third-ranked Wolves will now face Snohomish, which beat Prairie 50-47, at 8:30 p.m. tonight in the quarterfinals of the tourney. The Suns, making their first-ever state appearance, dropped into the consolation bracket and will face Prairie today to 2 p.m. in a loser-out contest.

Labeled by many as the tournament favorites, the 25-1 Wolves looked nothing like that for much of the night. South put up a season-low seven points in the first quarter and had scored just 16 by halftime, another season low.

In fact, the Wolves trailed from the very beginning and didn’t get a lead until early in the third quarter. The 56 points scored was the second lowest total of the season, just ahead of the 53 points they scored in their lone loss of the year, that coming against Gig Harbor on Jan. 4.

“It just appeared that we were not ready to go,” South coach John Callaghan said. “And for what ever reason – I don’t know how you can not be ready to go here – it just appeared that we were not ready to play. We didn’t come out and play as hard as we could. And that can’t happen.”

The fact that Southridge, 21-7, was a little bit bigger across the board helped their cause. And the fact they played tougher and more physical didn't hurt either.

South even did its best to help the Suns out by shooting a dismal 19.4 percent from the field during the first half, hitting just 6 of 31 field goal attempts, including a whopping zero for eight on three-pointer attempts.

“They are big and they are tough and I think they were way more physical than us, especially in the first half,” Callaghan said. “And not being able to hit an open shot kind of hurt us but our guys played hard and much better in the second half.”

But despite the poor shooting, South trailed just 20-16 at halftime, thanks in part to its defensive play that forced 21 turnovers, 14 of those coming on steals.

Callaghan said it was the Wolves’ defensive play that kept them in the game and allowed the team time to find its shooting stroke, which it did in the third period.

South got back into the game with a 24-point outburst in the third, one that was spurred on by L.P. Neloms.

Neloms, a junior guard, scored 11 third-quarter points to lift the Wolves into the lead.

Southridge coach Jason DeVere said he had pegged Neloms as more of a penetrater than an outside shooter, adding that the three 3-pointers he nailed in the third quarter were what changed the tide of the game. Those nine points helped South finally get in front and seemed to give the entire team, as well as the South crowd, a lift.

“Coach was telling us in the second half that we weren’t playing hard at all,” Neloms said. “We were playing like we’ve never played before and we just needed to come out and play hard.”

Still, South could never pull completely away from Southridge. Junior guard Travis Mattair made sure of that by scoring a game-high 22 points, including 13 of the Suns’ 20 first-half points.

The Wolves countered with 16 points from Neloms while the inside duo of Josh Monagle and Ryan Sweet combined for 27 tough points and 12 rebounds.

“There haven’t been too many times this year that we were out-physicaled and we were tonight,” Callaghan said. “But we hung in there and I thought our defense and our pressure is what saved us.

“We need to wake up and play as hard as we possible can,” Callaghan added. “That’s all you can do. If we do that, we’re going to succeed. And if we don’t, then we’re going to be disappointed.”

Despite seeing his team immediately knocked into the consolation bracket on its first-ever state trip, DeVere seemed upbeat with what had transpired.

“Not too bad, we competed with a very good basketball team,” the first-year coach said of his team's performance. “We showed signs that we are going in the right direction.

“This tournament is about being in the right place at the right time,” DeVere said. “It’s about defending and rebounding and if (South Kitsap) can do that, I think they’ll be in good shape.”

South Kitsap 56, Southridge 50

Score by quarters

Southridge 10 10 17 13 - 50

South Kitsap 7 9 24 16 - 56

Southridge – Travis Mattair 9-12, 4-5 – 22; Stephen Mikelsen 3-7, 0-0 – 8; Jason Munns 1-3, 2-2 – 4; Dylan Jones 0-2, 0-0 – 0; Spencer Towne 4-9, 1-2 – 9; R.J. Knight 0-1, 0-0 – 0; Isak Dunham 3-7, 0-0 – 7; Josh Antonson 0-0, 0-0 – 0. Team totals: 20-41, 7-9 – 50.

South Kitsap – Conner Gehring 0-6, 0-0 – 0; Tippy Burk 2-7, 2-2 – 7; L.P. Neloms 5-11, 3-5 – 16; Josh Monagle 7-13, 0-1 – 14; Ryan Sweet 4-10, 5-5 – 13; Tysaiah Curry 0-1, 2-4 – 2; Evan Atwater 0-4, 0-0 – 0; Dan Nelson 0-1, 0-0 – 0; Joe Pisa 1-3, 2-4 – 4. Team totals: 19-56, 14-21 – 56.

Three-point field goals: Southridge 3-10 (Mattair 0-2, Dunham 1-2, Mickelsen 2-6) South Kitsap 4-16 (Gehring 0-4, Burk 1-3, Neloms 3-7, Atwater 0-2). Rebounds: Southridge 36 (Mattair 13), South Kitsap 28 (Monagle 8). Assists: Southridge 7 (Mattiar 3), South Kitsap 7 (Burk 2, Neloms 2). Steals: Southridge 4 (Mattair 3), South Kitsap 14 (Sweet 4). Turnovers: Southridge 21 (Mattair 6, Munns 6), South Kitsap 7 (Gehring 2, Neloms 2). Total fouls: Southridge 20, South Kitsap 9. Fouled out: none.

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