Going back to Tacoma

Even at this point in the season, not even the players themselves can explain how South Kitsap keeps pulling out game after game. And Saturday night’s improbably fourth-quarter comeback against Prairie fits nicely on the top of the list.

But the only list that mattered to the Wolves after their 63-58 win the quarterfinals of the West/Central District tournament is the one that has them going back to the Tacoma Dome for their fifth-straight Class 4A state tournament.

“It’s nice to get it out of the way,” guard Tippy Burk said. “Because now, we still have to play hard and everything, but there’s no pressure now – we can just come out and play our game.”

The Saturday win puts the Wolves, 23-0, in the March 9-12 state tourney and in tonight’s semifinals against an all too familiar foe, Kentwood. The Conquerors, 20-4, beat South last year to claim the state title.

The pair face off at 8 p.m. at Puyallup High. The winner moves to the championship game Saturday against the Bethel-Evergreen winner. The losers face off for third and fourth.

Prairie, 17-5, falls into the losers bracket and faces Foss in a loser-out game.

And all the joy that the Wolves showed last year after gaining a state berth, they dogpiled each other after knocking off top-ranked and undefeated Bethel, was missing Saturday night. Instead of massive celebration, it was more like a calm relief that one more goal is out of the way.

“To be honest, very,” South coach John Callaghan said about being relived to earn a state trip. “This is a big game because it’s a tough road if you don’t get this one. We’ve done down that road and it’s tough. I could not be happier.”

The Wolves found the going tough against Prairie, out of the Mount St. Helen’s League in Vancouver. Even after jumping out to a quick 12-4 lead, South would have to fight harder than ever before this season to pull out the win.

And they did it by erasing an eight-point fourth-quarter deficit that included scoring the game’s final nine points.

“I don’t know man, it’s crazy,” Burk said. “I don’t get it but we find it somewhere deep down and when we have to get it done, we get it done.”

Burk did just about everything in his power to get the Wolves back to state. The fiery sophomore scored 21 points and once again ran the floor like a seasoned veteran.

“There’s just no way you can look at him and thinks he’s a sophomore,” Callaghan said. “Sometimes, almost to a fault, he’ll take things into his own hands. But he is a talent and he’s going to be opening a lot of eyes. He already has.”

Burk said it took a little while but he figured out the pick and roll and how to come off of it and take the ball to the basket. When he did, he scored or got fouled, where he took advantage by nailing 10-of-13 tries.

But it was free throws by seniors Jamil Moore and Derrick Webb that sealed the game down the stretch. Moore, who also scored 21 points, hit 5-of-6 in the final two minutes while Webb added a pair himself to put the game out of reach.

“It’s their time and we expect them to make those free throws,” Callaghan said. “Big game, you know that’s why they’ve worked their butt off. This is it for them, this is the end of the road. And I don’t think anyone is happier than those two.”

After the fast start, South went cold and watched Prairie climb out of its hole to take a 19-15 lead. South fought back to hold a 32-25 halftime advantage but saw the Falcons, who got 20 points from Jeff Storm and 16 from David Winters, come out hot and jump out to a 39-34 lead.

The lead grew to eight early in the fourth before the Wolves began chipping away, getting it down to 58-54 at the 2:41 mark. Prairie didn’t score the rest of the way.

“It was a nail biter but that’s OK, we like that,” Webb, who netted 16, said. “We like those kind of games, it will help us in the long run.”

“We’ve been down so it’s pretty familiar,” Webb said. “We just had to keep fighting hard like we did, all 32 minutes. It’s a full game and you can’t let down.”

Both Moore and Webb said playing close games earlier this year against Roosevelt, both fourth-quarter comeback victories, helped. That and a huge douse of self-confidence that they wouldn’t lose.

“Not in my mind at all,” Webb said. “I knew we had this, even though we were down. I had trust in my team that we would come back and win this thing. That’s a couple of goals - We still have one more ahead of us now.”

South Kitsap 63, Prairie 58

Score by quarters

Prairie 19 6 23 10_58

South Kitsap 15 17 10 21_63

Prairie – Orlando Westbrooks 9, 0-0_9; Marshal Schaefer 5, 2-2_7; Jordan Ard 2, 1-2_3; Jeff Strom 18, 2-3_20; David Winters 16, 0-0_16; Brian Virgin 3, 0-0_3. Team totals: 53, 5-7_58.

South Kitsap – Conner Gerhing 2, 1-2_3; Tippy Burk 11, 10-13_21; Josh Monagle 0, 0-0_0; Jamil Moore 12, 9-11_21; Derrick Webb 14, 2-2_16; Ryan Sweet 2, 0-0_2; Connor McPherson 0, 0-0_0; LP Neloms 0, 0-0_0. Team totals: 41, 22-28_63.

Three-pointers: Westbrooks, Schaefer, Winters 4, Ard, Burk, Webb.

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