By AARON MANAGHAN
GIG HARBOR — High scoring? Check.
The beginnings of a blowout? Check.
An exciting comeback? Check.
New records? Check.
In fact, Friday night’s Narrows League battle between former Bridge Division foes Central Kitsap and Gig Harbor had all that and more in a game that left a packed Gig Harbor High School gym cheering for more — no matter which team fans were rooting for.
And while Gig Harbor (5-6 overall; 4-2 in Narrows Bridge play) held off a CK comeback effort, it was Tides center Mathias Ward who stole the show.
Ward, a 6-foot, 6-inch, 215-pound senior bound for the University of Montana, erupted for new school records with 56 points and 23 rebounds as Gig Harbor handed CK an 83-75 overtime loss, just the Cougars’ (10-2; 6-1 in the Bay Division) second defeat this season.
“Mathias Ward is a fantastic player,” CK coach Tim Fryer said. “Brandon (Durham) couldn’t stop him. He just wasn’t ready to go tonight. Mathias just outworked us and out-hustled us inside.”
It was all Ward early and often for the Tides, which had built a 35-25 halftime lead with Ward accounting for 24 at that point.
But right away, CK let it be known the game was far from over. Almost immediately after the second-half tip, Gig Harbor’s Geoff McIntosh had a rebound stolen by Philip Thomas of CK, which he passed off to Isaiah Thompson for a jumper that would kick off a Cougar comeback as CK narrowed the lead to 50-45 heading into the fourth quarter.
After CK’s Caleb Brown hit a three-pointer to even the score at 52-52, Thompson then stole the ball, scoring on a breakaway lay-in to give CK its first lead after trailing by as much as 12 in the first half. CK shooting guard Andrew Braun, whose three-pointers helped CK narrow the gap, stayed hot, hitting another three to give CK a 65-59 lead with a little more than 3 minutes left to play. Braun led CK with 22 points.
But just as he had all game, Ward took over again, scoring inside to trim the lead to 67-63 with 2 minutes left. After another Ward rebound, he scored again to cut the lead to just two points. After Thomas iced two free throws to put CK back up by four, Ward drew a foul and hit his as well. That was when McIntosh stole the ball and found who else but Ward for the game-tying bucket after he got his own offensive rebound. CK had a chance to take the lead but a Thompson shot was swatted by Ward with 11 seconds to play. Ward then stole CK’s in-bounds pass with just 3.6 seconds to play, but his baseball pass was picked by Brown and thrown short of the hoop as the final buzzer sounded.
“We just talked about how we weren’t ready to play and how they were killing us on the boards,” Fryer said in regards to the team’s comeback. “The boys played a good second half. We just didn’t come out ready to play.”
The overtime period didn’t start so hot for CK, however, as Gig Harbor opened the 4-minute frame on an eight-point run before CK finally scored with a minute left, making it 77-71 Tides. CK would have to foul often but were still able to pull within three on a Braun three-pointer with 9 seconds left to play.
The Cougars had a chance as McIntosh missed both free throws. But following the second miss, Ward grabbed the most important of his record-setting rebounds, drawing a foul and putting the final touches on the Tides’ victory.
“That’s a good team,” Fryer said. “They’re better than we heard they were.”
While Durham, CK’s go-to inside man this year, struggled with just eight points, Brown and Wyverne Hemphill helped try to keep Ward in check. Brown finished with 12 for CK.
Durham struggled to find rhythm offensively while having problems stopping Ward, however, Fryer said he’s not worried about his big man.
“I know Brandon is disappointed in his game tonight,” Fryer said. “We need him to step up to win in the Narrows League. He just wasn’t ready tonight. But he’ll be fine.”
And while Ward’s game would have been trouble for anyone to stop, Gig Harbor coach Lyle McIntosh said Ward would have traded it all for the win.
“I’m sure he’ll tell you the team win was more important,” McIntosh said. “But we still needed every point we got from him tonight.”
CK could have used points from injured guard Cody Thurmond, who fractured his wrist in previous game. Fryer said he’ll be out at least four games, but should be available to return at some point. McIntosh called Thurmond the “best guard on that side of the water.”
But rather than the loss of Thurmond, Fryer said the Cougars need to realize nothing will come easy just because the team has been winning.
“We’re a great team,” Fryer said. “When you’re a great team, you have a target on your back. When you have a target on your back, teams come ready to play. It’s one of those things. They’ve got to know that when you’re one of the favorites, people aren’t going to roll over.”
With CK and Gig Harbor’s boys hoops rivalry evolving on an ongoing basis (the Tides edged CK 51-47 almost a year to the date on Jan. 5, 2007), Fryer said this will add another chapter.
“This was a big game for everyone, all the way around,” he said. “They’re fighting to get back in it and we’re fighting to stay on top.”
With Gig Harbor scrapping to get back in the playoff picture, both coaches said they wouldn’t be surprised to cross paths once more before the season is said and done.
“At some point, we’ll be playing again, whether it’s in the playoffs or whatever,” McIntosh said.