POULSBO — The North Kitsap Vikings had two opponents Friday night: foul trouble, and the Central Kitsap Cougars.
The foul trouble helped drag the Vikings to the edge of the cliff, and the Cougars nudged them over.
After grabbing the momentum in the first half and building a lead to as many as 10 points, the Vikings were slowed, both by a tenacious Central Kitsap defense, and by fouls in the fourth quarter that were assigned to Jerrod Gonzales, Josh Mathews, Sean Kelly, Devin Reed, and Bryan Haupt. The Vikings struggled, rotated players in and out, and watched as the Cougars took advantage and grabbed a 71-69 win.
The loss makes things difficult for the once high-flying Vikings, who started off 3-0 in league. Now 4-3, the team will have to fight to get its way back on track, said head coach Bob Fronk.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us. That’s the challenge,” Fronk said.
Fronk’s Vikings and the Cougars battled tenaciously in the first half, especially in the first quarter, when there were nine lead changes. North’s foul trouble began early, with Devin Reed picking up his second foul with 2:38 left in the first quarter, and at the end of that quarter the Cougars surged ahead. Mike Malala’s pass to Aaron Brien on a fast break gave them a slim one-point lead, and they didn’t let go; a pair of Greg Stewart free throws, a floater in the lane by Lukas Henne, and a three-pointer by Brien extended the Cougar lead and gave them a 25-19 lead going into the second quarter.
In the second it was the Vikings who took control.
The crowd — packed with purple-clad Viking fans and orange-and-black festooned Cougar Crazies — began buzzing when Jerrod Gonzales was fouled after firing up a three-pointer that missed.
Gonzales’ three made free throws dragged the Vikings within five points and sparked a 22-7 second-quarter run.
From there, the Vikings could hardly miss. Mathews buried a three-pointer; Thomas Jordan bounced a no-look pass to Gonzales on a NK fast break; Bryan Haupt grabbed an offensive rebound and shoveled it in for two points.
And the Viking half of the crowd burst into cheering and catcalls when Haupt, trailing CK’s Jeff Acres on a fast break, swooped in for a block to save two points.
North’s lead stood at 10 points as halftime approached, and each team went into the locker room with North holding a 41-32 lead.
But the third quarter was no copy of the second. In a two-minute span midway through the third, Gonzales picked up his third foul; Devin Reed received his fourth; Josh Mathews got his third; and Bryan Haupt received both his third and his fourth.
While the Cougars had some whistle problems of their own (Malala fouled out in the third quarter), they were able to take advantage of the sitting Vikings, storming back to outscore North Kitsap 24-15 in the third.
North’s intensity in the second quarter was matched by Central’s in the third and fourth. The hot-shooting Cougars were able to shoot well from beyond the arc (Aaron Brien was 4-of-4), and at the line (where the team shot 23-of-31) to grab the lead away from North Kitsap as the third quarter ended.
North flared briefly in the fourth quarter, as Gonzales’ three-pointer tied the game at 69.
But with the clock ticking down, Central Kitsap’s Henne stole the ball as it bounced away from a Viking. He then drove downcourt, gave the ball to Brad Mader, and watched as Mader sailed in for the game-winning layup — his only bucket of the night.
North’s final play, which started with only four seconds left, fell short, and the Cougars were left with the win.
For head coach Al Gleich, it was a sweet road victory for a team that needed one.
The Cougars, Gleich said, had not played at home in six weeks.
“It’s great getting a road win against a great team,” Gleich said.
Gleich said his Cougars (4-11, 3-4 in league) responded when point guard Malala fouled out.
“It was great to see some guys step up and take his place,” Gleich said.
As for North Kitsap (9-6, 4-2 in league), they will now have to face South Kitsap tonight, at South Kitsap.
“It’s gut-check time,” said Fronk.
(Central Kitsap (71) Aaron Brien 18, Marcus McKay 16, Lukas Henne 15, Greg Stewart 6, Kevin Van Hook 5, Chad Larson 3, Mike Malala 3, Brice Books 2, Brad mader 2, Jeff Acres 1. North Kitsap (69) Bryan Haupt 2, Josh Mathews 18, Jerrod Gonzales 15, Thomas Jordan 7, Chad Foster 4, Reid Ammann 2, Justin Vestman 2).
NOTES: Fronk was especially pleased by the gritty defensive play of guard Justin Vestman, who played more than eight minutes, minutes he earned in practice, Fronk said … Mathews also had six steals for North Kitsap.