Wolves ready for a handful of Gators

There’s a common saying in basketball coaching circles: “You may have an off-night shooting, but there is never an excuse for playing poor defense.”

That’s been the South Kitsap High School boys basketball team’s mantra all year long, most recently during its 82-57 drubbing of Mount Tahoma for the Narrows League championship on Saturday night in Bremerton.

Forgive the Wolves if their pre-game warmups aren’t flashy and exciting like the Mount Tahomas and Federal Ways.

SK’s brings its hard hat and lunch box to work every weekend, and plans to do so again tonight as it hosts the Decatur Gators at 7 p.m. in the first round of the West Central District tournament.

Reserve senior guard Tysaiah Curry said the entire Wolves team believes in the hard-working, defense-first mentality.

“Our defense is what leads to our great offense,” Curry said. “We feed off each other and our defense always seems to spark it.”

Case in point, senior Conner Gehring netted nine first-quarter points against Mount Tahoma, while reserve guard Evan Atwater stepped right in with eight points in the second quarter.

Four players scored in double figures, which showed the Decatur scouts the biggest matchup problem will be the inability to key on one player.

More than half of SK’s points came on layups against Mount Tahoma, but the outside shooting was just as effective, whether it was the open 3-pointers from Atwater and Gehring, or eight- to 10-foot jump shots from Ryan Sweet, who finished with a game-high 22 points.

SK coach John Callaghan, seeking a sixth straight trip to the state tournament, said his players know all too well the ability of the teams SK will face from here on out.

It was only three years ago the top-ranked Wolves lost their district home game to seventh seeded Kent-Meridian.

That loss forced SK to have to go through the backdoor (three straight loser-out games), in order to earn a state berth.

It’s not a scenario Callaghan wants to put his team through again.

“Decatur is going to be tough,” Callaghan said. “They’re all going to be tough from now on. Decatur isn’t going to care that we are the No. 1 seed. They’re going to come in here knowing they can win.”

Callaghan said he doesn’t need to show his team film of that Kent-Meridian game to remind them of the importance of winning that first district game.

He said the mental and defensive lapse against Gig Harbor at home — the team’s only loss this year — is reminder enough that a team can win at SK’s gym.

“Winning that first game will make things a little easier for us,” he said.

The Gators come into the game with an 18-5 record, including big wins against highly touted and ninth-ranked Federal Way and Puyallup.

Decatur only lost by three points to No.1-ranked Curtis earlier in the year.

The Gators are led by seniors Andrew Kim (15.4 ppg) and JaRon Brown (17.5 ppg).

Kim is a point guard who can light up a gym from the outside, or he feeds his favorite player, Brown, who at 6-6 will be shadowed by either Sweet or Josh Monagle.

Decatur also gets some scoring from Stedman Richardson (10.0 ppg), Marcus Tibbs (9.0 ppg) and Darious Walker (9.0 ppg).

“As long as we can play good defense and block out, I think we’ll do fine,” Callaghan said.

South Kitsap 82, Mount Tahoma 57

South Kitsap — Tippy Burk 4, L.P. Neloms 4, Conner Gehring 11, Ryan Sweet 22, Josh Monagle 11, Tysaiah Curry 11, Evan Atwater 8, Joe Pisa 6, Dan Nelson, Jared Privatt 2, Garrett Boone 3.

Mount Tahoma — Donta Gardner 5, Alex Tennyson 2, William Edge 3, Marice Tolliver 21, Leon King 7, Jamell Stagg 2, Koloneus McClarron 2, Patrick McCollum 15, Brandon Jimenez.

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