PORT ORCHARD — Brian Cox arrived at South Kitsap around noon on Wednesday, hours before he was set to make his debut as the new head coach of the boys basketball program, looking for ways to pass the time and keep his nerves in check.
He started by running a few laps on the track and he eventually made his way up to Marcus Whitman Middle School where he had lunch with his former head coach, John Callaghan.
“I was crazy nervous earlier in the day,” Cox said, adding that it was a good thing because “if you’re not nervous, there might be something wrong with you.”
But once the lights went on and the players hit the court, he was in his element, pacing up and down the sideline and calling out encouragement and instruction.
The Wolves responded in kind, playing tough and battling Curtis for four quarters. Senior point guard Eli Mackie hit the game-winning bucket with 25 seconds to go on a drive straight down the lane to give South Kitsap a 62-60 win on opening night in front of a packed house.
“I’m exhausted,” Cox said. “I feel like I just played the game.”
Curtis had broken a 57-all deadlock with about 1:25 to go on a 3-pointer by freshman Tyler Logan. The shot clock had nearly run out and Gilbert took possession of a loose ball and heaved up a shot from 25 feet that hit nothing but net. It was the type of play that could have been a back-breaker for South Kitsap, but Cox called a timeout to regroup his guys.
Mackie brought the ball down the court and perfectly executed a pick-and-roll with Kyler Kelso, who drained a wide-open 3-pointer to tie the game at 60 with 1:05 to go.
“We drew that up in the timeout and we came out and executed it,” Cox said.
After getting a defensive stop in their own end, Mackie took matters into his own hands and took on the Curtis defense, heading straight down the middle of the paint. No one was able to stop him and he scored on the layup to give his team its final lead. Mackie finished the game with 15 points.
“I’m so proud of all of our guys,” Cox said. “I’m proud of the way we fought through.”
Gavin Morkert had the game high with 19 points and Kelso chipped in 13. Senior forward Brayden Segerman electrified the crowd by hitting three 3-pointers in the first quarter and finished the game with nine. At their best, the Wolves were able to show off their multi-faceted attack with players equally adept at shooting from the outside as they were playing in the paint.
“As Kyler, Gavin and Eli go, we will go,” Cox said. “And I’m really confident in those three guys.”
The opening-night win over the defending league champions was a big one, as it gives both the team — with just two returning starters — and its first-year head coach a little room to breathe as they settle into the season. An 0-1 record going into their Saturday home game against Olympia would have been a tough spot — the Bears, with their unique blend of athleticism, size and ability, are likely the team to beat in the SPSL this year.
South Kitsap 62, Curtis 60
CU 16 26 6 12 — 60
SK 22 14 14 12 — 62
Curtis (60) — Paulsen 19, Miller 15, Parker 9, Smith 6, Logan 6, Gilbert 2, Lewis 2, Loupas 2.