Cox keeps season alive

South Kitsap’s promising prep basketball season nearly came to a premature end Wednesday night in a West Central District elimination game with Mount Tahoma at Auburn High School.

Staring at a four-point deficit to Mount Tahoma with less than 90 seconds to play in overtime, SK senior guard Brian Cox lifted the team onto his back and refused to let it be defeated.

Cox drained a pair of 3-pointers and calmly sank two free throws to give SK a 74-72 win to keep the Wolves’ hopes for a state berth alive.

SK played Gig Harbor last night for the No. 5 seed into state.

Results were unavailable at press time.

If the Wolves won, they will be making their third straight trip to state.

If they lost, they would play the loser of the Federal Way/Bethel game for the seventh and final seed today at 4 p.m. at the University of Puget Sound Fieldhouse.

“(Cox) has hit so many huge shots for us, not just this year but last year, too,” SK coach John Callaghan said. “Brian didn’t have his best game tonight, but I’ll tell you what, he’s tough. I couldn’t be more proud of him to step up and nail those two free throws. That was gigantic.”

Along with the credit, Cox said he accepts some of the blame for allowing Mount Tahoma back in the game after the Wolves had built a 16-point fourth-quarter lead.

The Thunderbirds pumped up their defensive pressure and caused Cox to turn the ball over, which they converted into baskets.

“They were tough on defense,” Cox said. “To be honest, I was having a hard tim handling the ball against their pressure. I don’t think coach had much confidence in me, but that’s OK.”

Callaghan said he gets angry when his players turn the ball over, but he never lost confidence in Cox.

“Things weren’t going well for him,” he said. “He made a few mistakes. But he’s the guy we’re going to stick with.”

Two weeks into the season Callaghan had said Cox was the key to SK’s success this year.

“I said we were going to go as far as he takes us,” Callaghan said. “He’s the leader of our team. He’s the point guard and he runs our show. Brian always rises to the occasion, and tonight was no different.”

Offensively, SK dominated Mount Tahoma through three quarters.

Nate Seitz led the Wolves with 23 points, followed by Adam Bennett’s 18 and Jake Beitinger’s 15.

After being held to 36 points through three quarters, Mount Tahoma’s Baree Ward single-handedly brought the Thunderbirds back, scoring 16 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter.

Whether it was a 30-foot 3-pointer or an unblockable eight footer, Ward clearly awoke after scoring just six points through three quarters.

SK’s Trivone Curry and Cody McCulley held him in check for those three quarters but Mount Tahoma players started setting double screens, enabling Ward to free up for his shots.

“Trivone was playing good defense on him and so was Cody,” Callaghan said. “But Baree is just an incredible player. The only thing you could do was try to keep him from getting the ball, and that’s not easy.”

Callaghan said he’d like to see his team get stronger as the game grows instead of the opposite.

His players are echoing those sentiments.

“That was our problem against Kent-Meridian, too,” Seitz said. “We had them but we let them back in. We get up to such good starts and then we let them back in.”

Beitinger was a little more diplomatic.

“That’s basketball,” Beitinger said. “Things like that are going to happen. They were a lot more physical than we were and that’s probably what kept them in the game. They out-rebounded us in the second half and scored on putbacks.”

Curry said he’s just grateful Mount Tahoma didn’t play its double-team defense the entire game.

“In the fourth quarter they started coming back, but it’s a good thing we didn’t get down,” Curry said.

Callaghan said there’s a fine line between being conservative and being patient.

Against Mount Tahoma in the fourth quarter, Callaghan said he would like to think his team was being patient, but he admitted it was difficult for SK to break through Mount Tahoma’s pressure and run the offense.

Breaking pressure and executing the offense is something Callaghan said he will continually work on with his players in practice if SK has made it to the state tournament.

“We need to be disciplined enough to pull back, get in our offense and be able to score off the pass,” Callaghan said. “I’d rather make aggressive mistakes. I don’t want to be passive ever.”

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