T-Bird soar over first-place Gators
By Calvin Domingo - Staff Reporter
Fresh off demolishing first- place Green River this past Saturday, the Highline men's basketball team now controls its destiny with the playoffs approaching in a few weeks.
"It's very simple. We need to worry about ourselves for five games. If we take care of our business, it doesn't matter what other teams do. It's a life lesson. Worry about and invest in what you can control," said Head Coach Che Dawson.
Highline is now 17-7 overall, 6-3 in league play and in sole possession of third place in the West Division of the Northwest Atlantic Conference.
As the top four teams from each division make the playoffs, the T-Birds would be in prime position to punch in a ticket to the tournament this year.
The Thunderbirds began to take charge of their future last week, on Wednesday, Feb. 13. The T-Birds hosted and defeated the Grays Harbor Chokers, 68-58.
Although the Thunderbirds got the victory, starting center Tristan Miguel was subbed out of the game in the second half due to an unspecified hip injury.
While Coach Dawson isn't exactly sure what happened that caused the injury, he does know that the center could potentially be on the shelf for a substantial amount of time.
"We don't know, but there is a possibility that he won't be able to play for the rest of the season due to his hip injury," he said.
Highline's David Harris led all scorers with 24 points (6- 12 from the field, 4-7 from the three-point line, and 8-8 from the free-throw line), grabbed 8 rebounds, and had 4 steals.
As for Grays Harbor, guard Dallin Spencer led his team with 12 points (5-10 from the field) and 7 rebounds.
Although the Thunderbirds' first-half play featured intense defensive pressure and a late thunderous jam by Harris to make it 36-26 at the half, the second period wasn't as smooth.
They opened the half on a near four-minute scoring drought, which allowed the Chokers to close the gap and gain momentum.
Then, to make matters worse, starting center Miguel left the game via injury with 9 minutes remaining.
"The downside to it is that we don't have our big [man] babying the other bigs," said center Ethan Gates.
The game was back and forth in the closing minutes but thanks to Highline's aggressive full-court pressure, in addition to poor execution
on offense by Grays Harbor, Highline was able to capitalize by finishing with 5 steals in the final minutes.
"We didn't do anything special. We just stuck to our discipline and were fortunate that they made some mistakes," said Highline Head Coach Dawson.
"As a team, we've been focusing on keeping things simple all season long," said guard Coby Myles. "Against Grays Harbor, we were able to maintain that focus and exe- cute on offense. So, when opportunities presented themselves, we made sure to take advantage of them."
On Saturday, Feb. 16 in the Thunderdome, the T-Birds obliterated the first-place Green River Gators (8-2), 90-62.
"Our guys were pretty dialed in mentally for the game. It was probably the most complete game we played. We kept
things simple and shared the ball offensively and played hard defensively throughout," Coach Dawson said.
Their 90 points marks a season-high in league play, and the win pushes their winning streak to four games.
Highline is now 8-1 at home on the season.
"I think one of the reasons we are so successful at our house is because of the atmosphere [that] everyone brings. Including the players, our coaches, [and] our fans. Everyone is so involved and ready to go," said guard Jordan Purvis.
Forward RJ Nelson came off the bench, and out of nowhere exploded for a career-high 33 points (13-15 from the field, 7-8 from the free-throw line).
He also pulled down 11 re- bounds, finishing with a monstrous double-double to help Highline seal the critical victory against the Gators, whom they previously lost to earlier in the season by 21 points.
"When they beat us earlier in the season by 21, it was a reality check," said Nelson.
"I didn't even realize that I had scored a career-high 33 points. Every time I do some- thing good or even when it's just me stepping [foot] on the floor, my teammates hype me up. That gets me going," added Nelson.
For Green River, guard Alex Sommerfield's 15 points (5-12 from the field) led his team. He also finished with 5 rebounds. Teammate Kevin Baker had a double-double, finishing with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
The Thunderbirds were in complete control of the game from the jump, going into the intermission with a 41-31 lead and never looking back.
From then on, Highline only expanded upon their lead, outscoring the Gators 49-31 in the second half of play.
Despite leading the Gators the entire game, the T-Birds continued to be aggressive on offense in the second half as they were pushing the ball out in transition, taking shots within the f low of the offense, and were consistently looking for the open man.
The Thunderbirds will look to avenge their only loss at home as they traveled to Pierce to take on the sixth- place Raiders last night at 8 p.m with results unavailable at the time of press.
The 'Birds will then embark on back-to-back games, as they host second-place South Puget Sound the very next day, Thursday, Feb. 21 at 8 p.m.
Following that, they travel to Lower Columbia looking for a season-sweep on Saturday, Feb. 23 at 7 p.m. to take on the fifth-place Red Devils.