PORT ORCHARD — Exactly one year after Rogers handed South Kitsap perhaps its worst loss of the season, the Wolves boys basketball team welcomed the Rams back to Port Orchard, but this time things went differently.
On Jan. 3 last year, South Kitsap led Rogers by 18 points late in the third quarter, but were outscored 26-5 in the final frame and wound up on the wrong end of a 61-50 loss. It was a painful lesson learned by a young team of mostly sophomores and juniors.
That game was fresh in the players’ minds as they went into the break ahead 23-13 against a Rams team that was off to a 9-1 start in the 2018-2019 season.
But an outstanding defensive performance on the part of the Wolves (4-2, 5-4) and a game-high 18 points from senior wing DeAnte Ward helped them to a consequential 47-37 league victory Jan. 3 over Rogers (5-2, 9-2).
“I told the guys at halftime that we can’t let up until the buzzer goes off,” said Ward, who was a starter on last year’s team.
South Kitsap led 35-22 after three quarters, but Rogers cut the deficit to six, 39-33, midway through the fourth.
But then an inbound pass by Ward found Gavin Morkert completely unguarded as he drove to the basket. With no one around, the athletic junior forward threw down an emphatic dunk, putting to rest any notion of another comeback and erasing the specter of last year’s contest.
Morkert hit another wide-open layup on the next possession and Ward iced the win by hitting all four of his free throw attempts as Rogers began to intentionally foul.
The Rams shot just 30 percent from the floor, and while some of that was due to unpolished play and some bad bounces off the rim, South Kitsap’s swarming defense often made them look uncomfortable in their half-court offense.
Eli Mackie, filling in for senior captain Jackson Kambich, who has been lost for the season with an injury, drew the tough assignment of guarding Rogers junior Jace Barrett. Although Barrett led the Rams with 12 points — 6-for-15 from the floor — he was constantly shooting from off-balance positions and had to work hard for each basket.
“Eli had a great game tonight,” said head coach John Callaghan, who picked up career victory No. 298. “[Barrett] for them is a really good player, but Eli just did an excellent job on him. I thought we would have to go diamond-and-one on him, but we didn’t.”
On the other end, the Rams defense forced South Kitsap away from their strengths. The Wolves hit just three 3-pointers in the match, and two of their top players, Ward and Kyler Kelso, ran into some foul trouble — each had four fouls entering the fourth quarter. But they converted on their possessions at the most critical times and had a strong 10-for-14 performance from the free throw line.
“On the perimeter, they’re pretty physical,” Ward said. “Usually I like to shoot, but they brought me inside, which is a little different than most games this season.”
With the victory, South Kitsap already has more league wins than last year and is looking to continue the momentum Saturday on the road against Puyallup. The win over Rogers provided a big momentum boost as the team heads into another tough matchup.
“This is huge [win], [Rogers] is having a great year,” Callaghan said.
South Kitsap 47, Rogers 37
Rogers 6 7 9 15 — 37
South Kitsap 9 14 12 12 — 47
Rogers (37) — Barrett 12, Fernando 8, Turco 8, Ancheta 7, Dwyer 2.
South Kitsap (47) — Ward 18, Morkert 8, Kelso 5, Grant 4, Mackie 4, Potz 4, Escolta 3, Pace 1.