SK clinches division title

Winning the Narrows League Bridge Division title is all fine and dandy for South Kitsap High School boys basketball coach John Callaghan.

But it’s the guarantee of not playing in Vancouver for a West Central District game Callaghan is most happy about.

SK lost to Battle Ground of Vancouver last year in the first round of the district tournament before winning through the consolation bracket to get to state.

SK was the No. 4 seed last year, but now SK will go into districts with nothing worse than a No. 2 seed after defeating Central Kitsap 52-44 Wednesday night to clinch first place in the Bridge Division.

The win also relieved SK of the pressure of forcing itself to clinch at Shelton last night (results were unavailable at press time).

“It was nice to clinch at home on senior night,” Callaghan said. “Now, no matter what, we get a first district game at home, which is a lot more fun than driving for three hours to play a game. We will be playing tough teams but at least we get home cookin’.”

On a night that saluted nine SK seniors, it was the seniors that picked up most of the slack offensively.

With starting post Jake Beitinger out for the week after sinus surgery, senior Cody McCulley stepped in as a starter and banged for a team-high nine rebounds to go with his nine points.

Seniors Nate Seitz and Brian Cox led the Wolves with 12 points each, followed by Adam Bennett’s eight points.

Through three quarter CK had a slight edge over SK behind the sharp shooting of Lukas Henne (12 points) and Marcus McKay (11 points).

With the absence of Beitinger on defense, CK post Brice Brooks hooked up for eight points, though SK’s defense put the clamps on the inside game in the second half.

The Cougars held a 36-32 lead going into the fourth quarter before SK opened the quarter on a 9-0 run to take a 41-36 lead.

SK sophomore Jamil Moore hit a big 3-pointer in the run that tied the score 36-36 and Cox came down on the next possession and drained a 3-pointer to push SK up three points.

Trailing by just two points, CK came out of its zone defense for the first time all game.

The switch appeared to confuse the CK defense, which forgot to switch on a scree where a wide-open McCulley who converted a three-point play to give SK a 44-39 lead.

SK went up six points with 1:28 left but CK cut the lead in half when Henne nailed a 3-pointer with 1:05 remaining.

But SK’s defense kept CK scoreless in the final minute while the Wolves continued to hit enough free throws to put the game out of reach.

A relieved Cox said he was thrilled the Wolves didn’t have to try and win a division title at Shelton.

“We really wanted to get it done here,” Cox said. “It was nice to see we could win without Jake. Of course he’s our guy but we each stepped it up when we had to.”

Cox said the team’s defense has made it easier to relax offensively, though he admitted he had a case of nerves going into the fourth quarter.

“I was getting a little nervous to be quite honest,” he said. “Putting away a team at home is something you gotta do and we weren’t doing it. But we clutched up when we had to. That’s just been the trademark of our team.”

McCulley said whether he’s starting or coming off the bench his role is the same.

“We needed some help on the boards and our shot blocking and presence wasn’t there in the first half,” McCulley said. “We usually depend on Jake to get those boards. But tonight I had to get them.”

Cox said McCulley may be SK’s most important weapon.

“Cody bangs with the big boys,” Cox said. “That’s his job. He’s going to get his rebounds and he’s going to get his points but his main job is to do the dirty work. He’s our toughest guy and we’re going to use him whenever we can.”

McCulley’s toughness was tested against CK.

Only four days after suffering a deep hip bruise, McCulley played without a noticable limp.

“I didn’t feel while I was playing. It hurts right now though,” McCulley said minutes after the game ended. “I’m used to playing with injuries. This is just an annoying injury.”

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