Daniel Sims and his fellow Pirates found their visitors from Bellevue less than forgiving Saturday night, falling behind by eight points by halftime.
Fortunately for a packed house at Peninsula College’s gymnasium, Sims and company saved the best for last.
The reserve guard hit a pair of key shots — an acrobatic layup with two minutes remaining and the game-winner with 15 seconds left — and teammate Dudley Ewell sank a key free throw in an 86-84 win against Bellevue on Feb. 25.
“This was huge,” said Ewell, who struggled all night before coming up with the rebound and game-clinching free throw with five seconds remaining.
The win gives Peninsula (13-3 in conference play, 23-4 overall) the No. 2 seed heading into the NWAACC tournament in Kennewick on March 1, where they will try to defend their conference championship.
They open at 10 a.m. Saturday morning against Clackamas, the No. 3 seed from the South Division.
For 20 minutes, despite some spirited play on both ends, fifth-ranked Peninsula looked like they’d relinquish their chance at the No. 2 seed as Bellevue patiently found holes in the Pirates’ 2-3 zone, attacking the baseline and getting opportunistic 3-pointers from the corner.
The Bulldogs, ranked No. 6 coming into the game and aiming for the North Division’s No. 2 seed, led 37-29 at half.
In the span of about three minutes into the second half, Peninsula erased that lead.
“The pace of the game was too slow for us,” Pirate coach Lance Von Vogt said. “It was Sophomore Night and our shots were long; we never really settled down. (But) I liked our energy.”
After drawing even with Bellevue, Peninsula kept it close thanks to the yeoman-like work inside by DeShaun Freeman. Last year’s NWAACC tourney MVP muscled his way inside for 24 points and 10 rebounds, fighting off Bellevue’s double- and triple-team approaches.
When the Bulldogs shut that down, P.C. teammates Sam Waller and Tyler Funk made them pay from the outside. The pair combined for five 3-pointers, 31 points and 12 assists between them.
But with about three minutes on the clock, Peninsula’s J.T. Terrell — the phenom who was second in the NWAACC in scoring coming into Saturday’s game — picked up his fifth foul and second technical. After torching Bellevue with an alley-oop dunk earlier in the game, Terrell got bumped into the wall behind the basket by a pair of Bulldogs; officials apparently thought the USC-bound Pirate was too physical with his counterparts on the way down.
That seemed only to inspire Peninsula, particularly a pair of key reserves. Pirate Corey Clement drained a 3-pointer late, and after Waller earned a pair of trips to the free-throw line to close the gap, the Pirates were down just 84-83 with less than a minute left.
“I drew it up (but) the play wasn’t for Daniel,” Von Vogt explained later. “He was option No. 3.”
The third option was the charm, as P.C. guard Funk zipped a pass to Sims racing along the baseline. The 6-foot guard from Australia dropped it in the bucket for his seventh and eight points of the night.
Bellevue tried to get a shot off or at least a foul but Keaton Hayenga’s shot glanced off the rim and Ewell got the rebound.
He hit one of two freebies, helping clinch the win.
“I wasn’t having a good game all night,” said Ewell, who averages 13.4 points per game but was 0-for-4 from the field Saturday.
Terrell also struggled in his final home game as a Pirate, hitting just four of 15 shots from the field (including 1-for-8 from long range).
Jonathan Humphrie led Bellevue with 16 points.
“It was not our best game,” Von Vogt said not long after Peninsula’s game in Bremerton against the host Olympic Rangers on Feb. 22.
Still, Peninsula was good enough to pull out an 88-83 victory.
The Pirates saw a 14-point first half lead dissipate in the second half before Sims came up big with a 3-point bomb, his only points of the night.
Terrell led the Pirates with 34 points on 13-of-21 shooting, including nine of 10 from inside the arc.
Freeman added 15 points and 11 rebounds. Clement had 14 points off the bench.