POULSBO — North Kitsap’s senior post Ryan Young said he could hear the crowd, all of North’s fans and even the ripples of the hardwood, as he approached the two foul shots that would determine the Vikings’ playoff fate versus the Kentridge Chargers.
“I could definitely hear the fans. I could even feel the floor vibrate,â€ Young said. “But once I step up to the line, it’s just me and the free throw line.â€
Down 66-65 with three seconds left, Young, the Narrows’ Bridge MVP, was faced with this unenviable challenge. Be he would sink both — the first a clean swish and the second one which received a friendly front rim bounce — to advance North to within one win of the state tournament, a trip which hasn’t happened for the Vikings since 1988.
North Kitsap has now won seven of its last eight games, but it has been the last two wins — the other being over the Olympia Bears to take third in the Narrows — that has Washington’s basketball elite turning its head and raising an eyebrow at the Poulsbo squad.
Both wins were largely due to composure at the foul line, as senior Jacob Gonzales went 16-for-16 in the three point win over the Bears last Saturday. In any case, the underdog Vikings are building clout in the state.
“We weren’t expecting to be here,â€ Gonzales said. “We came here with chips on our shoulders, trying to earn respect. But now, (other teams) are seeing that we’re beating legit teams.â€
The squad is having to adapt quickly to basketball’s post-season atmosphere. North’s Jared Prince, who added eight points in the game, is certainly someone used to that pressure, having led North’s gridders as quarterback, and the baseball team as starting pitcher, to the post-season.
“It’s a playoff atmosphere, and there’s nothing like that,â€ Prince said. “We’ve been in these types of positions before. But I don’t think people thought we could do this (in basketball).â€
Nerves combined with Kentridge’s speed and anticipation hurt North early on Thursday, the Chargers drawing a plethora of steals. But the Vikings adapted to keep better control of the ball, and their opponents’ steal attempts left numerous Vikes open inside the paint for easy scores.
“They’d put pressure on us and we’d burn ‘em,â€ Gonzales said. “And then they’d back off.â€
North even built a commanding 35-21 lead at the end of the first half. But the advantage dwindled late in the third and early in the fourth, as Kentridge’s outside threat Danny Bowen hit a pair of trays and Kelly Robinson, who scored Kentridge’s game-high 20 points, worked inside for a couple of three-point plays and easy buckets, putting the Chargers up 63-58.
“We got a little careless,â€ Young explained of the comeback. “But they’re a good team and they’re hear for a reason.â€
North Coach Aaron Nations added that North’s defensive efforts in the second period may have exhausted the team a bit.
“We got tired and stopped playing defense,â€ he said. “We were trying to sit back and protect the lead. And all the sudden, they were right back in it.â€
But from there, the Vikings’ prowess at the free throw line — combined with the Chargers’ inconsistency at the charity stripe — kept North in the game. Prince went two-for-two with 1:15 to go, while Kentridge’s Bowen sank only one. Gonzales followed with an easy lay-up inside and Bowen again went to the line on the next possession — but he missed both.
Young’s two subsequent free throws for North (15-7) sealed the Viking win, as the Chargers failed to score with three ticks remaining.
The game was also the last at home for Viking seniors Young, Gonzales, Prince, Jordan Henry, Travis Tobin and Dan Yee.