Peninsula's post players had the perfect solution for a hard-fought game against Bellevue Saturday night: soft hands.
Pirate posts Brooke Helpenstell and Brittany Bridges muscled their way inside the Bulldog defense, then finessed close-range shots to coax Peninsula to a 63-57 victory.
The win helps the Pirates (8-2 in conference play, 13-8 overall) remain in sole possession of second place in the NWAACC North Division, behind Skagit Valley.
"The difference from last time was our intensity," said Peninsula coach Julie Stewart, recalling a 17-point loss to Bellevue on Jan. 10. "Our girls are making the change ... that they can think for themselves on the court."
Helpenstell showed why she's a legitimate threat down low each time down the court, hitting nine-of-11 shots and all four free throws for a team-high 22 points. Bridges, a post who can hit from behind the three-point stripe, got to the free-throw line 10 times and was second on the team with 17 points.
The Pirates led by as much as seven points in second half before Bellevue made a run, taking a 47-46 lead with 8:03 on the clock. That's when Helpenstell went to work. The sophomore hit back-to-back lay-ups, then fed Bridges for a backdoor score and 6-0 Peninsula run.
"Brittany and Brooke really have nice soft hands," Stewart said. "I really liked that Brittany went through the post and continued through (to the basket) instead of fading away."
Helpenstell and Sam Flett sank clutch free throws late and, despite a final Bellevue run, the Pirates managed to hold on for their eighth conference win.
Flett, the Pirates' leading scorer with a 17-points-per-game average, struggled at times with Bellevue's intense perimeter pressure. Undaunted, Flett showed her versatility by leading the team in steals (six), assists (six) and rebounds (10).
"I liked that Sam picked it up in other ways," Stewart said.
Though Peninsula got just five points off the bench, Stewart said her reserves contributed to the victory.
"The (bench) players came ready to go and helped us with steady play," she said.
The last time Peninsula faced Bellevue, Helpenstell had 19 points and nine rebounds but the Bulldogs held the rest of the Pirates to 25-percent shooting in a 58-41 win in Bellevue.
Peninsula takes on Olympic (4-7 in conference, 6-13 overall) in Bremerton on Feb. 11 and play division-leading Skagit Valley (11-0, 19-1) at home on Feb. 14.
Team Conf. Over.
Skagit Vly. 11-0 19-1
Peninsula 8-2 13-8
Bellevue 7-4 14-9
Whatcom 7-4 11-8
Everett 6-5 6-15
Olympic 4-7 6-13
Seattle 3-7 4-16
Shoreline 2-8 8-13
Edmonds 0-11 0-18
Michael Dashiell can be reached at miked@sequim
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