It may have been a physically draining night for the Pirates, but they were more than willing to pay the price.
The Peninsula College men’s basketball team sustained a tough, bruising effort from the Skagit Valley Cardinals, 79-73, on Feb. 9, capturing a share of the NWAACC North Division lead.
After the victory, the Pirates (9-2 in division, 14-6 overall) are deadlocked with the Cardinals (9-2 in division, 11-9 overall) for first place.
“This was an important win because we control our own destiny,” Peninsula coach Lance Von Vogt said.
Each team has defended its home court in the season series. The Cardinals upended Peninsula, 86-72, on Jan. 12.
The No. 3-ranked Pirates sealed the victory by nailing 13 of 14 attempts from the charity stripe in the second half, including five of six in the last minute of play.
“The guys were focused on their free-throws. It also helps to be at home where you shoot them,” Von Vogt said.
No. 8-ranked Skagit proved their merit by largely erasing a 19-point Peninsula lead, 56-37, with nearly 11 minutes remaining in the game.
The Cardinals climbed back into the game on the scorching shooting of marksman Justin Downer and a swarming defense, opportunistically attempting to trap the Pirates whenever they were caught in a corner.
“We struggled when they went to a trapping defense with being strong with the basketball,” Von Vogt said.
While the Cardinals defense confounded the Pirates offensively, Downer drained six of eight three-point attempts in the last 10 minutes of play, keeping the Cardinals within reach of Peninsula.
All of Downer’s 20 points came in the second half, which Von Vogt said was the result of failed defensive sets.
“We had some missed assignments, and he hit a couple,” said Von Vogt. “We did a great job on him for the first 25 minutes.”
With two and a half minutes to go, Downer struck again from beyond the three-point arc, pulling the Cardinals within six, 72-66.
After a Peninsula turnover, Skagit further cut into the lead with a two-point bucket, 72-68, with one minute to play.
After Trevant Musgrow knocked down the front end of a one-and-one to give the Pirates breathing room, DeShaun Freeman grabbed the rebound, allowing Peninsula to drain time off the clock.
With the shot clock winding down, Sammeon Waller threaded and cut through Skagit’s suffocating defense, finding a wide-open Jeremiah Johnson on the baseline. Johnson buried a mid-range jump shot with 30 seconds remaining and put the game away for the Pirates.
Mitrell Clark was successful on each of his 10 free-throws, including four in the last 20 seconds of play, and led the Pirates with 25 points and four assists.
DeShaun Freeman garnered 10 points and 13 rebounds.
Justin King led Skagit Valley with 27 points and nine rebounds.
Peninsula hosts the North Seattle Storm (4-7 in division, 5-14 overall) at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 12.