Wolves leap into semis

For the South Kitsap boys basketball team, the plan was simple. Take advantage of its height and experience, play good defense and see what happens.

The Wolves worked that plan to perfection during the first two rounds of the Class 4A state basketball championships played at the Tacoma Dome, cruising through to the semifinals and guaranteeing themselves a spot in Saturday’s final round of games and at worst a sixth-place finish.

Then, they could also win the whole thing.

“I couldn’t be more proud of our guys,” South coach John Callaghan said after Thursday night’s 58-53 win over Walla Walla. “They hung in there. We stuck together and got things going in the right direction.”

Jake Beitinger looked like a big man playing in his fourth and final state tourney, putting the Wolves, 20-8, into tonight’s semifinals against Bethel.

A win in today's late game would propel South into its first title game since the 1950 season. A loss would send the Wolves into Saturday’s third/sixth place game.

Regardless of tonight’s outcome, South will be playing on the tournament’s final day once again, thanks in large part to Beitinger.

“We were talking about having faith in ourselves,” Beitinger said. “Despite the doubts earlier on in the season, we’d have to come out strong. It’s not how you start but how you finish.”

Beitinger had a monster game in Wednesday’s opening round 55-52 victory over Mountlake Terrace, scoring 25 points, ripping down 11 rebounds and adding six blocked shots.

In Beitinger’s first three appearances in the tournament, the Wolves lost in the opening round. In fact, Wednesday’s win was the first win for South Kitsap in the opening round of the tournament since 1951.

“Somebody said we finally got that monkey off our backs,” Beitinger said.

The 6-8 senior made sure the monkey stayed away with another strong showing against Walla Walla, scoring 21 points.

“We’ve kind of grown to expect that from Jacob,” Callaghan said. “Jacob is a great player, and I don’t think there are too many players in this tournament that can stop him one on one.”

But it hasn’t been all Beitinger.

Fellow senior post Adam Bennett is averaging 11 points a game during the tournament while junior guard Jamil Moore has netted 18 points in two games.

“The guys are doing great, and we celebrate today but we’ve got two big ones still to go,” Beitinger said.

As has been the case all year, the Wolves have relied on Beitinger and Bennett while the play of guards Moore, Derrick Webb and Mike Lizama caught up to the seniors. They showed they have and in a big way.

“Our defense has been good all year,” Callaghan said. “It’s still improving and it’s going to have to continue, too.”

That defense held Mountlake Terrace point guard Luke Hammond to just two points and Walla Walla’s floor leader, Tim Lally, to just five.

Both totals were far below their season averages.

“I thought Mike’s defense on Luke Hammond was a exceptional,” Callaghan said. “I think Mike got after him and he never really gave him an opportunity.”

Lizama, had been starting at point guard only since the beginning of the West Central District tournament began, also chipped in offensively against Mountlake Terrace, scoring nine points, grabbing seven boards and dishing out three assists.

“There’s not a whole lot of fear in that guy,” Callaghan said. “He’ll go through a wall if that’s what you tell him to do.”

But defense is nothing new to the Wolves.

“It all comes back to defense and making adjustments,” Beitinger said. “Taking away what they are comfortable doing and making them do things that they don’t necessarily want to do. Basically, just trying to make them uncomfortable.”

But uncomfortable is just what South was feeling late against Mountlake Terrace.

After building a 20-point third quarter lead, the Wolves saw that shrink down to just three with seconds left in the game. The same happened once again against Walla Walla as an 11-point fourth-quarter lead was suddenly just two points with under a minute remaining.

“That’s basketball — it’s a game of runs,” Callaghan said. “If you can lengthen yours and shorten theirs, then its going to work out.”

Which has been the case for the Wolves.

So far.

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