TACOMA — The first round pigtail game at the 3A West Central/Southwest bi-district tournament between the No. 2 seeds from the South Sound Conference and the Pierce County League is a bit like playing the lottery for the two teams. The winner gets to skip past the first round of the tournament while the loser has to win two more games to punch a ticket to regionals.
The Cougars’ lucky numbers didn’t come up on Tuesday evening against a strong, quick and physical Lincoln High School squad as the Abes took a commanding lead in the second quarter and pulled away to a 77-58 victory at Washington High School.
The opportunity to grab a first-round bye is gone, but the tournament is just getting started for the Cougars. They return to action at home in Silverdale on Thursday against South Sound Conference rival Peninsula. A win in that contest sends them right on to a winner-to-state game at Evergreen on Saturday.
The loss will sting a little, but getting a look at a quality opponent this early in the tournament gives them an idea of the level at which they need to play going forward.
“This not only made us better for right now, this makes us better for the future,” McMinds said.
Led by Julien Simon, a Division I level athlete who has offers from a truckload of major college programs for his ability on the gridiron, Lincoln’s ability to dominate the paint and get to the basket with strong drives was unlike anything Central Kitsap had seen so far this year. And not only were they more physical, they also shot 68 percent from the floor and hit 78 percent (22-for-28) of their free throws.
“That’s a different level of intensity that we don’t see night-to-night,” said Central Kitsap head coach Scott McMinds. “And not only a level of intensity and pressure, but strength, physicality and their shooting. It was a buzzsaw.”
That’s not to say the Cougars didn’t have their moments. They went toe-to-toe with the Abes early and had an 18-15 lead after the first quarter. Colby White and Maurice Green each stepped up big with a pair of 3-pointers in the first quarter and Ethan Searer used his length to his advantage with a pair of baskets from close range. Searer finished the night with 13 points and Green chipped in 12.
“I thought we played well, honestly, for a young group,” said White, who had a game-high 18 points for the Cougars.
But the second quarter proved to be the difference as the Abes dominated the offensive glass and worked their way to the free throw line. The 6-foot-2, 220 pound Simon had the rare combination of physical prowess and agility to get to the basket at will and his success was contagious as his team outscored Central Kitsap 29-11 in the second quarter.
Simon led Lincoln with 16 points.
The Cougars didn’t roll over, though. They made a game of it in the third quarter thanks to the stellar play of freshman Jo Jo Johnson, who scored 11 of his 13 points in that stanza. Johnson hit a couple of big 3-pointers and showed off his own athleticism by getting to the hoop a number of times. That helped Central Kitsap get back within nine as they headed to the fourth quarter.
“If you take out the second quarter, we’re right there,” McMinds said.
Lincoln 77, Central Kitsap 58
CK 18 11 21 8 — 58
LN 15 29 15 18 — 77
Central Kitsap (58) — White 18, Johnson 13, Searer 13, Green 12, Tolentino-Balagtas 2.