POULSBO — The race for the Olympic League title became a little more complicated Jan. 30.
A quick, athletic Port Angeles defense led the charge in a 54-48 victory over North Kitsap, shutting down the Vikings over the final three quarters. The Riders offense found its groove in the fourth and they took control of the game late.
The two teams are now tied atop the standings, making a one-game playoff for the championship all the more likely.
North Kitsap opened hot, shooting 9-of-12 from the field in the first quarter. Junior Raelee Moore scored six of her nine points in the opening frame on a trio of jump shots. Erin Pearson, who paced all North Kitsap players with 12 points, also contributed a pair of baskets from the paint, where the Vikings were able to find some offensive success early.
But the Riders defense quickly adjusted. After striking for 20 points in the first quarter, North Kitsap was held to 28 the rest of the way.
“[Port Angeles head coach Mike Poindexter] just kept changing defenses and we couldn’t get into anything, and so we never got any rhythm,” head coach Penny Gienger said.
Still, North Kitsap held a five-point lead late in the first half until a buzzer-beater by Madison Cooke cut it to two. The Riders did not shoot particularly well from the field for most of the game, but with the defense forcing North Kitsap into numerous uncharacteristic turnovers, the offense got enough opportunities to keep the score close.
Port Angeles took a 34-33 lead with 4:14 left in the third after a steal by Emilia Long. The freshman guard missed the subsequent layup, but Cooke was there for the putback.
A pair of baskets each by Pearson and Grace Johnson sent the Vikings on a 9-0 run late in the third, but layups by Cooke and Mikkiah Brady pulled Port Angeles back within two points once again.
The Riders took went back ahead for good late in the final frame on a layup by Devin Edwards. North Kitsap’s Olivia Selembo, who finished with 11 points, answered with a 3-pointer from the wing, but Cooke came right back with a 3-pointer of her own. Gracie Long followed on the next possession with another triple to give Port Angeles a five-point lead late in the fourth.
“They beat us in the fourth quarter, we were tired,” Gienger said. “He’s running four in, four out. He has some great athletes.”
Both teams play one more game on Feb. 1 — North Kitsap hosts Sequim and Olympic makes the journey up to Port Angeles. If both teams win, or lose, a playoff game would take place over the Super Bowl weekend at a neutral site. If one team wins and the other loses, the winning team gets the league crown.
Port Angeles 54, North Kitsap 48
Port Angeles 15 15 9 15 — 54
North Kitsap 20 12 9 7 — 48
Port Angeles (54) — Cooke 10, E. Long 10, Wood 10, G. Long 6, Wheeler 6, Edwards 5, Brady 4, Steinman 3.
North Kitsap (48) — Pearson 12, Selembo 11, Moore 9, Barreith 7, Johnson 7, Hughes 2.
— Mark Krulish is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. He can be reached at email@example.com.