“March Madness” basketball action came to Poulsbo

POULSBO — If the players were a little taller and older, the middle school basketball championship game between the Poulsbo Panthers and the Kingston Cavaliers could have easily been mistaken as an WNCAA championship game. On Tuesday the teams were equally matched, as both demonstrated they know how to pass the ball, rebound and steal. The teams played fast. The athletes played aggressive, scrappy basketball, resulting in a double-overtime, white-knuckled thriller.

POULSBO — If the players were a little taller and older, the middle school basketball championship game between the Poulsbo Panthers and the Kingston Cavaliers could have easily been mistaken as an WNCAA championship game.

On Tuesday the teams were equally matched, as both demonstrated they know how to pass the ball, rebound and steal. The teams played fast. The athletes played aggressive, scrappy basketball, resulting in a double-overtime, white-knuckled thriller.

After the players left all their efforts on the hardwood the Cavs came out on top, 67-56.

“It was probably one of the most exciting games I’ve been around,” said Panther head coach Glen Godfrey. “It was a pretty neat thing that North Kitsap teams pretty much dominated the league.”

The Panthers ended their season with an 8-2 record and the Cavs a 9-1 record.

Both coaches agree the game could have gone either way.

“There were moments I knew we had it in the bag and there were moments I knew we were going to lose,” said Cavs head coach John Goar. “They’ve always been our toughest rival over the years.”

To reach the second overtime the Panthers had to play intense defense, as it was down 20-10 at halftime.

The third period began with Kingston stealing the ball followed by consecutive chances at the free-throw line. Kingston sunk two of four baskets to spread its lead. Then the Panthers went on a 13-2 scoring rampage that ended as Nicole Webber nailed the game-tying shot with 1:30 left to go in the third period.

“To come back we had to have character to keep working hard on defense,” Godfrey said. “They knew if we kept playing hard on defense they’d get back in it.”

At the start of the fourth, Panther Delanee Nilles sunk a basket from downtown to give the Panthers their first lead, 28-25.

But the talented and hard-working Cavs wouldn’t give up their lead that easily. Kingston’s Shaina Weintraub got the foul and swished one shot. Her second attempt found the rim and Poulsbo got the rebound, but couldn’t hold onto the ball. Weintraub regained possession and this time she found nothing but net. The game was tied 28-28.

From there the teams traded buckets. And the defense, from all corners of the wood, was hot, forcing turnovers and fouls.

A nail-biter ensued.

With 40 seconds left in the fourth period, Poulsbo’s Dahrien Cardoza nailed a shot from outside the paint to give the Panthers a one-point lead. But once again the Cavs couldn’t stand to trail the Panthers. As the seconds ticked down to 10, Kingston’s Maggie Snaza landed a basket to put the Cavs up by one.

Unfortunately for the Cavs, Poulsbo’s Indika Bray was fouled. With five seconds left Bray sunk her second free throw, sending the game into overtime.

The first overtime mirrored much of the previous four quarters, as the teams continued to trade buckets and force fouls. Once again it came down to free-throw shooting.

With less than 30 seconds on the clock Kingston’s Amanda Carper nailed one of two free throws. Then instantly regained possession and landed an unguarded layup. The three-point conversion put Kingston up by 1.

“I could just tell she (Carper) was playing with fire,” Goar said. “She was a force out there. A big difference maker.”

However, Poulsbo’s Webber put the stop on a Cavalier victory, as she sunk one of two free throws to tie the game, again.

Unfortunately, similar to many other championship basketball games, fouls were the deciding factor, as three of each team’s starters fouled out before the second overtime. The game now rested in the hands of the bench.

Fortunately for Kingston it has a very deep bench, something both coaches were acutely aware of.

Goar said the depth of his team made the difference. Godfrey had the same response.

“We didn’t have anybody left,” Godfrey said. “Kingston has more players and a stronger bench. It was a combination of numbers, being well-coached and being good athletes.”

The Cavs outshot the Panthers 15 to four in the second overtime.

Winning or losing aside, the coaches couldn’t be more proud of their players. Both teams were champions on Tuesday for effort.

“They worked really hard all season, they’re talented and they have wonderful attitudes,” Goar said of his team. “Our motto this year was family and we really were. We were successful together.”