Sports

Can Knights turn it around?

It’s funny, sometimes, how things turn out.

Let’s hit the reverse button and return to the start of the 2001-2002 school year at Bremerton High.

This was the year the football team, which had won five games in its previous seven years, dared to talk about a .500 season.

And this was the year the boys basketball team was going to challenge for a state 4A championship.

Even in early September, basketball talk tended to overshawdow the football season that had yet to begin.

The football team exceeded all expectations, piling up points in exciting fashion and producing its first winning season since 1993. The Knights even challenged for a playoff berth.

Now, let’s fast forward to the middle of the basketball season.

Nobody’s talking about state championships anymore.

Nobody’s talking league championships.

Playoffs?

The Knights still have hopes, but whether they admit it or not, they’re on the ropes. Bremerton was 1-3 in the Narrows League and 6-6 overall heading into its game at Olympic on Friday, Jan. 11.

Who’d have thought that Bremerton’s football team would be more competitive and fun to watch than the Knights’ basketball team?

It’s been downright painful at times, but never more than it was on their home court on Wednesday, Jan. 9 against Gig Harbor.

After suffering its first five losses by a combined 16 points, the Knights lost No. 6 by 16 (59-43) and it might as well have been 66.

The football team averaged 32.5 points this fall, and there was a time when it looked like Bremerton’s hoopsters wouldn’t score that many against the Tides.

Michael Stitt’s 3-pointer at the 3:21 mark of the first quarter cut Gig Harbor’s lead to 9-7. Noah Garguile’s bucket at the 7:22 mark of the fourth quarter made it 42-21.

In between, Bremerton made just 3 of 22 shots from the field, none in the third quarter when it scored just three points, all from the free-throw line.

Bremerton coach Casey Lindberg couldn’t fault the Knights’ effort. He’s right. They played hard. They always do.

Lindberg boiled it down to a simple case of too many missed shots.

“You’ve just got to smile about it and move on,” Lindberg said, pointing out that Bremerton’s 28 percent shooting (16 of 56) was about as bad as it gets.

With respect to Lindberg and his staff, I don’t think it’s as simple as that. A wise basketball man once told me, “Sometimes coaches are so slavish to their statistics, they don’t recognize that there’s other reasons for not making shots.”

If Lindberg and his troops believe they were getting the shots they wanted against the Tides, that’s OK. If that’s the case, then it’s pretty easy to see why the Knights aren’t the basketball team that many of us thought they would be.

It wasn’t poor shot selection or selfishness, or anything like that. It was a case of Gig Harbor’s defense taking the Knights out of whatever offense they were attempting to run.

Veteran Gig Harbor coach Lyle McIntosh said his Tides (10-2) are the best defensive team he’s had.

“We played with intensity the whole 32 minutes,” he said. “I don’t think Bremerton had many good looks. I thought just about every shot they took was contested.”

Bremerton’s Marvin Williams, a 6-7 sophomore, ended up settling for perimeter jumpers and dribbling into traffic when he tried to go inside.

“We wanted to really attack him when he got the basketball,” McIntosh said. “The further he’s away from the basket, the better for us.”

Bremerton senior Joe Bollinger nodded his head when asked about Gig Harbor’s defense.

“We weren’t used to being pushed that far out,” Bollinger said.

On offense, the Tides were a model of efficiency. They slowed the pace and hurt the Knights inside with their offensive rebounding.

When the Knights did run, which was rarely, Williams fed Michael Stitt for a couple fastbreak layins. Stitt later returned the favor, feeding Williams for a dunk.

“That’s when we’re at our best,” Bollinger said. “We’ve got to take it at ’em and control the tempo. They controlled the tempo.”

The season’s been frustrating, Bollinger admitted. There had been such high hopes. He thought the Knights would be on top of the standings, not fighting to stay out of the cellar.

“It’s still early,” Lindberg said.

That’s Bremerton’s new battle cry.

“There’s still time,” Stitt said. “The season’s not halfway over.”

“We’ve got to put this behind us and move on,” Bollinger said.

Even McIntosh said it was too soon to count the Knights out.

“They’ve got some athletes,” he said. “They’ll be fine. Casey will get them going.”

They’d better not wait much longer.

Bremerton has eight games left, counting last night’s game at Olympic. If they win five, the Knights will finish league 6-6.

That might be good enough to grab the Bridge Division’s fourth and final postseason berth. Then again, it might not.

But at this stage of the season, that’s a realistic goal.

Who would have thought back in September, when you could feel the excitement in the hallways at Bremerton High, that the football team would have an easier time getting to .500 than the basketball team?

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