South Kitsap stumbles late against Emerald Ridge

The Wolves are now one game behind for the last SPSL playoff berth

SOUTH HILL — The South Kitsap boys basketball team is far from finished, but the road to a district playoff berth is now a little trickier.

It was another wild finish for the Wolves, who have played several close league games this season. But against Emerald Ridge, South Kitsap’s fury failed to match the storm generated by their opponents, who rallied from an eight-point deficit in the fourth quarter to claim a 58-54 victory on Jan. 16.

A win over the eighth-place Jaguars would have tied the Wolves with Sumner for the sixth and final playoff spot in the SPSL standings and would have given them a one-game cushion over Emerald Ridge.

With five games to go, both South Kitsap and Sumner have almost identical schedules down the stretch — each has games remaining against Graham-Kapowsin, Curtis, Bellarmine and Rogers.

“There’s a lot of basketball left to be played,” said interim head coach Brian Cox, who filled in a second game for suspended head coach John Callaghan.

“Our guys are fighters and they will bounce back.”

The lead had been cut to a single point with less than two minutes to go when a blocking foul was called on Ethan Lamoreaux. Both players on the court and the South Kitsap bench were unhappy with the call, and in the immediate aftermath, a technical foul was assessed to South Kitsap’s Jackson Kambich.

Emerald Ridge hit all four subsequent free throws and retained possession of the ball, increasing its lead to three.

Kambich was later able to cut the deficit back to one with a 3-pointer from the wing with less than a second remaining.

Immediately after the ball went through the hoop, Cox purposely called a timeout knowing his team had none left, a rarely used trick that stops the clock but also results in a technical foul. Emerald Ridge’s Connor Drinkwine sank both shots to all but seal the game.

The Jaguars hit 12 of 14 free throw attempts in the final few minutes of the game.

“We were up eight with three minutes to go and they fought back,” Cox said. “You have to give them credit. Free throws are big and they hit them.”

Junior wing DeAnte Ward had one of his best games of the season, dropping a game-high 23 points. Ward played like a man on a mission all night, noting after the game that he is motivated by how South Kitsap’s season ended last year.

“I have playoff hopes for our guys,” Ward said.

“Although we only have one senior on the team, last year was a heartbreaker when we lost our first game in the playoffs. I didn’t like seeing our seniors upset about that — not being able to go farther. I have that drive to play for our seniors. And even for ourselves as a younger team, we want to get to the playoffs every year.”

Ward scored 10 of his team’s 15 points in the first quarter and hit a layup and a 3-pointer on consecutive possessions midway through the second quarter to restore his team’s lead after the Jaguars had surged ahead.

Ward also threw down an emphatic, highlight-reel dunk that ended a 7-0 run by the Jaguars and gave the Wolves the one-point lead they held before that fateful final sequence.

“I was really proud of the way he played. He’s really starting to mature,” Cox said.

“Obviously, he’s so physically talented, but when he’s mentally locked in, there’s nobody that can stop him and I thought he played great tonight.”

Callaghan will return to the bench Friday, Jan. 19, when South Kitsap hosts first-place Curtis. The South Kitsap coach was ejected from the team’s Jan. 9 game against Olympia after being assessed two technicals with less than a minute to play. Olympia had led 47-45 at the time, but the game ultimately ended in a 1-0 forfeit after Callaghan refused to leave the floor, wanting an explanation for the calls.

Per WIAA guidelines, coaches face an automatic one-game suspension after an ejection, but during a meeting with district administrators, he supported sitting out an additional game.

South Kitsap 15 9 19 9 — 54

ER 12 9 13 24 — 58

South Kitsap (54) — Ward 23, Kambich 12, Kelso 12, Lamoreaux 4, Mackie 3.

Emerald Ridge (58) — Heads 15, Riddick 13, Matthews 12, Hayes 10, Drinkwine 4, Pfeifer 4.

Mark Krulish is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. He can be reached at mkrulish@sound