Vikings’ intensity, heart deliver first win

POULSBO — For the North Kitsap Vikings, a one-point win over the visiting Bellarmine Lions in a rescheduled game Monday night was sweet like a trip to the candy store.

As soon as the final buzzer sounded — despite a last-minute three from Bellarmine’s Darnell Williams that banked in as time expired — the North Kitsap High School gymnasium was filled with raucous celebration as NK coach Tony Chisholm looked into the stands with his fist raised with pride.

“We’re feeling extremely pumped up, you know what I’m saying,” NK senior Kyle McCown said in the aftermath of the 69-68 win. “We played hard for all four quarters this time.”

While the game played out like a typical North Kitsap affair, featuring plenty of up tempo action and a stingy defense, the difference this time was that the Vikings finally put together a full four-quarter ride.

It all started when the Vikings exploded on a lackadaisical Lions’ squad with a 24-point first quarter.

The Lions came into the game with a 5-1 league record that put them on the top of the Narrows League standings as well as sophomore sensations Abdul Gaddy and Avery Bradley who have been well touted by South Sound coaches and media. But North Kitsap is riddled with a team sensation of their own.

“Avery’s a great shooter and a great player, but we knew that,” Chisholm said, noting the duo didn’t affect his pre-game strategy. “All I knew is it was going to take a team effort and that’s what (our) guys did.”

North came out fiery as big men Taylor Hoffer, Eric Schippers and McCown carried the early flow of the game — the Vikings got their first 10 points from the paint. North garnered a seven-point lead and Bellarmine coach Bernie Salazar erupted on his team as he called a time out, trying to stem the Viking tide.

But it was the Viking defense which was stifling the Lions’ attack.

Then with a sweet no-look dish from Hoffer to Jordan Coover, North took a 20-9 lead with one minute left in the first quarter. BP’s Bradley responded with a three-pointer to end the frame.

North stayed comfortably ahead throughout the second quarter, as defensive hustle created NK points. The Vikings headed into half-time up 40-29.

“We knew we had the size on them in the post area,” Chisholm said, noting NK’s first half offensive burst from its post players. “We cleaned up on the boards and that’s what did it.”

After out-rebounding the Lions by almost 30 to eight in the first half, the Vikings came out flat while BP’s Gaddy and Bradley came out amped.

Gaddy began the second half with an offensive board and a put back. Then two minutes later, he drained a three-pointer to cut the lead to eight.

Six straight points from Bradley cut the lead to two with just under two minutes left in the quarter.

“I told them, I said ‘We’ve got to stay focused, mental toughness here, we’ve got to stay focused and just relax,’” Chisholm said of the stretch. “We’re ahead, and it’s getting close, but the boys didn’t push the panic button, never did I see any of my boys look like they were worried, they were relaxed and that’s the key.

“That poise carried us through the third and then the fourth quarter was just straight up guts.”

The Lions chipped away at the NK lead, and even erased it, tying the game at 57 with just over four minutes left. Both teams played strong in the fourth.

North clutched a 68-62 lead with less than a minute remaining, then Gaddy banked in a triple to give the Lions a prayer. On the ensuing play, Bellarmine sent NK sophomore Kyle Erickson to the line where he put the game away with one free-throw, giving the Vikes a four-point lead en route to their first win of the season.

Erickson scored 13 in the affair while Schippers and McCown added 16 and 13 respectively from the post. Coover scored 14 points in the first half, finishing with 16.

From the Bellarmine bench, Bradley scored 28 — half of which came in the third quarter — while Gaddy scored 18.

“With all these boys have been through in the last 10 games … this is like the candy in the candy shop,” Chisholm said. “I think once you taste something that good, you want some more. I don’t doubt that they’ll continue to play hard, and if we continue to play hard, that will give us opportunities to win.”

Next up, the Vikings are on the road at Foss today and will return to Poulsbo the Gig Harbor Tides, beginning at 7 p.m. Jan. 12 at the NKHS gym.