by Jordanne Perry
After a pair of close victories over the Puget Sound Loggers, 67-65, and Pacific Lutheran Lutes, 73-71, the No. 3 Whitworth men’s basketball team reigns as the seven-time Northwest Conference champion.
The Pirates started off the weekend with an early 14-4 lead over the Loggers Friday night within the first five minutes of the game. Shortly after, the Loggers went on an 18-8 run to tie the Pirates 22-22 with 8:16 left in the first half.
“It’s always different going on the road and playing at the opponent’s court,” senior George Valle said. “Playing at the Fieldhouse is always nice because it’s a packed house and we are really familiar with the hoops. Playing on the road is really tough.”
A technical foul on head coach Matt Logie for coming out too far on the court gave the Loggers two foul shots and a two-point lead. However, the Pirates quickly recovered to finish out the first half tied with the Loggers, 34-34.
“We got off to a really good start,” Valle said. “But then we hit a little slump and let [Puget Sound junior Carlos Mancasola] get going and he hit about five or six three-pointers to end the first half, which really allowed them to go on a run.”
The Loggers led the game for most of the second half and opened with a 6-0 run. With 10 minutes left in the game Puget Sound gained a nine-point lead over the Pirates (57-48). Junior Kenny Love wouldn’t let it last for long as he scored 13 of his total 24 points putting the Pirates one point away from the Loggers (61-62).
With less than 15 seconds left in the game, Love drove straight through the Logger’s defense but missed a shot at the basket. Valle rebounded the ball and swiftly put up the buzzer-beating, game-winning shot.
“It was really a right time and place moment,” Valle said. “I just threw it at the hoop and wasn’t really sure if it when but from the way everyone celebrated I thought ‘it must’ve gone in.’”
Love, Valle, and junior Drew Sears were the top three scorers of the game with 24, 17 and 10 points, respectively. Valle, Sears and junior Christian Jurlina were the top rebounders with eight rebounds apiece.
“We’ve been preparing since last season for these kind of moments,” assistant coach Damion Jablonski said. “Our theme all year has simply been the word ‘finish’ and that’s really been the mindset since the start of the off season last year that this year our team had a belief in themselves that when things were on the line we were going to find a way to finish.”
The following night, the Pirates faced the Pacific Lutheran Lutes. The Pirates built up a 10-point lead in the first half but the Lutes answered back to finish the first half trailing the Pirates 27-33.
Whitworth came out in the second half with a 12-point lead (63-51) over Pacific Lutheran. Yet again, the Lutes fought back to get within a two-point distance (72-70) from the Pirates with less than a minute left in the game.
Love sealed the game for the Pirates with a steal in the last four seconds and a free throw to put the Pirates at their final game score of 73. The Pirates ended the game with a final score of 73-71.
“PLU is a very good three-point shooting team,” Logie said. “They made some really tough shots that allowed them to stay in the game and I was really proud of our guys for fighting through some of the adversity that we had to face tonight.”
Jurlina finished the game as the highest scorer for the Pirates with 18 points. Valle was the second highest scorer with 15 points and tied with freshman Kyle Roach for most rebounds (6). Sears and Love finished with 10 points each.
“I think we are always looking for ways to improve, but our guys really did a great job of executing tonight,” Logie said.
Whitworth will play next in the NWC semifinal game against Puget Sound on Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Fieldhouse.