SILVERDALE — Central Kitsap knows all too well that there are no nights off in the South Sound Conference.
With three teams currently 16th or higher in the WIAA RPI 3A rankings, it’s one of the toughest leagues in the area. And if you’re fortunate and talented enough to make it out with a playoff berth, the likes of Lincoln, Prairie and Kelso, all currently ranked in the top 10, await in the 3A West Central/Southwest District tournament.
“It’s a tough league, but then it’s a tough district tournament too, it’s no joke,” head coach Scott McMinds said.
Four games remain for the fifth-place Cougars, including key matchups against Peninsula and Shelton, the teams directly above and below them in the standings. Six teams earn a spot in the district tournament out of the SSC.
“We have to keep doing our job and we have to continue to improve every night,” McMinds said after a recent victory over Gig Harbor. “If we play to our potential, we will earn a playoff spot, but nothing is going to be given to us. We have to go out and earn it each night.”
In recent weeks, the Cougars have been trying to solidify their playoff position. Victories over Yelm and Gig Harbor on Jan. 12 and 17 have helped, as did a come-from-behind 66-64 win over Shelton on Jan. 25. The Cougars trailed by eight heading into the fourth quarter, pulled roared back behind a 19-point effort from senior Zion Archer.
The road victory out in Mason County sets up an important game against Peninsula at home on Jan. 30. The fourth place finisher in the South Sound Conference faces off against the No. 2 team from the Greater St. Helens League, while the fifth place finisher gets the top team from that league.
“They’re all big from here on out,” McMinds said.
Against the Tides, the Central Kitsap offense fired on all cylinders from the get-go. Sophomore Ja’Quirious Conley led the way with 13 points and Archer and Dylan McConnell each added 12 in the 67-50 victory.
The Cougars pulled away in the second quarter, going on a 15-1 run. Whether it was the pinpoint shooting of guards Archer, Conley and Colby White, or the dominant inside presence of the 6 feet 5 inch McConnell, there was little Gig Harbor could do to stop them.
“This was definitely a night we needed,” McMinds said. “We needed to go on the road, play well and a get a tough-fought victory.”
Central Kitsap had a 21-point lead by the end of the third quarter and pulled most of its starters for the fourth. The team has been without Elijah McGee all season and McConnell has missed some time with an injury.
“Dylan is a difference-maker, he plays well inside, he can alter shots,” McMinds said. “We’re a better team when we’re all healthy. I thought a lot of guys did a lot of good things tonight.”
The Cougars will need every cog in the machine ready to go if they want to make a post-season run in a difficult district.
Central Kitsap 67, Gig Harbor 50
CK 16 22 18 11 — 67
GH 11 10 11 18 — 50
Central Kitsap (67) — Conley 13, Archer 12, McConnell 12, White 10, McMinds 7, Telemaque 6, Davies 3, McCormick 2, Zetty 2.
Gig Harbor (50) — Davis 13, Toglia 11, Parrish 9, McCauley 6, Dempewolf 5, Garnaas 4, Owens 2.