SK settles for second

Three months ago, John Callaghan fully expected to be sitting courtside at the Class 4A state title game in the Tacoma Dome. He just didn’t think he would be coaching his South Kitsap Wolves in the finals, not after starting the year 1-4.

“When we landed back in Seattle after playing in Utah (after going 0-3 in the Ragu Classic), we were not a real confident crew,” Callaghan said. “These guys have come a long way.”

They got all the way to the final game of the Class 4A state basketball tournament Saturday night, coming up just short of a dream season, losing to Kentwood 65-56 at the Tacoma Dome.

“When we lost those games in Utah, people kind of stopped believing in us,” senior forward Jake Beitinger said. “But we didn’t.”

That belief got the Wolves to the state tournament for the fourth straight year and the second-place trophy. The Wolves ended their year with a 21-9 record.

“Honestly, I don’t know what went wrong tonight,” junior guard Mike Lizama said. “It just wasn’t our night. We went out there and played hard, no doubt, but it just wasn’t our night tonight.”

The night belonged to the Conquerors and senior sensation Rodney Stuckey, who was voted as the tournament’s most valuable player.

“We just thought that this year was our year, we wanted to be on top,” Stuckey said. “And we are on top.”

Stuckey averaged 26.7 points a game during the tournament, including some big baskets late in the game to secure the win.

“He hit the biggest shot of the game,” Callaghan said. “We closed to four and we were doing all right and he just took the ball and shoved it right down our throat. That’s too bad, but we played as hard as we could and I couldn’t be more proud of our guys.

“He’s amazing,” Callaghan said of Stuckey. “And we’ve played against some great players like (Bremerton’s Marvin Williams), but Rodney Stuckey is as good as we’ve played against.”

Stuckey scored 11 of his 18 points in the second half, including a steal that he took home with a dunk right after the Wolves had cut the lead to 48-44 with five minutes left in the game.

“Our guys, we were close, but we had a couple of mental mistakes,” Callaghan said. “But I think it was more them making plays than our miscues.”

The Wolves’ Adam Bennett, who has drawn the opponent’s best defender all year, was tasked with guarding Stuckey and held the senior to eight points under his tournament average.

“I felt for the most part, I did what I could,” Bennett said. “I know a lot of his points came off of transition baskets. He got some easy ones. I thought I played him as tough as I was going to be able to. He’s just a great player. The tournament he had and the things he did here were really just phenomenal.”

South employed its diamond-and-one defense on Stuckey, having Bennett shadow him the whole game while the rest of the team moved around in a zone.

“They had beaten most teams playing it in their last five or six games,” Kentwood Coach Dean Montzingo said. “I mean, Callaghan is an excellent coach and he created a very good game plan. We tried putting him in the low post, we tried double-screening for him, we tried a lot of things. It’s a very effective defense.”

Bennett had shut down Stuckey throughout the first half as South jumped out to a 17-12 first-quarter lead. Stuckey scored just seven points in the first half.

“They did a pretty good job using that diamond-and-one,” Stuckey said. “But it was our defense and our fast breaks that won the game for us.

“He’s really good,” Stuckey said of Bennett. “He’s strong, you know. It was kind of hard for me to get the ball and stuff because he was always there. Their defense was real good tonight.”

The Conquerors tied the game at 27 just before the half and then exploded with a 12-1 run to open the second half and never trailed after that.

“I thought we could have run more,” Stuckey said. “But it was enough for us to win.”

Beitinger, who was also named to the all-tournament team, led the all scorers with 20 points and added 11 rebounds.

“They did just about everything and they deserve first place tonight,” Beitinger said. “They really did everything. Defensively, they were tough. Offensively, they played to their strengths. Every time we thought we came up with an answer, they were one step ahead of us. They deserve it, they were definitely the best team here.”

“What killed us down the stretch was the transition game,” Bennett said. “They got a couple of easy buckets and made that run and we were never able to get back in it. We came in as ready as we could be and tonight just wasn’t our night.”

Still, it was a season that will not be forgotten anytime soon around Port Orchard.

“Oh man, it was amazing,” Lizama said. “In the locker room, I was trying to sum up in words, but words can’t explain how I feel about this year and this team.

“We made things happen, we were the underdogs the whole year,” Lizama said. “Some of us didn’t even have faith in our own team at times. But we pulled through it — we proved this whole state wrong.”

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