B-town hoopla returns

For the tightrope-dancing Knights of Bremerton, it’s back to the precarious game of loser-out madness.

Bremerton, which completed an improbable run to the West Central/Southwest District 4A Tournament by prevailing in four consecutive win-or-quit games, finds itself in that uncomfortable predicament once more following Thursday night’s 74-56 loss at Enumclaw. They’ll try to fend off elimination and sustain hopes for a state-tournament berth tonight in an 8 p.m. game against Mt. Tahoma at Capital High School in Olympia.

At least the Knights (13-11) have prior success navigating in such unforgiving straits.

Prior to last Saturday’s loser-out, winner-to-district game against Wilson of Tacoma, the Knights got together and watched a video tape of the 1999 Bremerton team playing White River in the opening round of the Class 3A district tournament. That was the night Miah Davis scorched the Hornets with 37 points and the Knights began their march to a district title and fifth-place showing at state.

At Bremerton High a week ago, the Knights tomahawked Wilson with a second half of flash and thunder that couldn’t help but evoke memories of 1999. The final score was 65-55, but Bremerton’s victory had been an unqualified slam dunk.

When Marvin Williams punctuated a 26-11 run with a breakaway dunk, an almost supernatural roar rose up from the lusty crowd. The Knights had opened their largest lead at 56-37 and killed any lingering suspense about who would be the seventh and last school to represent the Narrows League at district.

Against the Rams, the fourth-place team from the Narrows’ Bay Division, Bremerton prospered despite first-half foul trouble that sidelined the two players whose dynamic play keyed their 11th-hour rennaissance. Kellen Alley drew his second foul with 3:37 left in the opening quarter and sat the rest of the half. Noah Garguile joined Alley on the bench for the final 5:13 of the half after picking up his second personal.

Alley returned to score 11 of his 14 points in the second half, and Garguile contributed 12 points, 11 rebounds and six assists. Williams finished with 18 points, nine rebounds and four blocked shots, and Joe Bollinger added 12 points for the Knights. Shifty guard Anthony Ward topped Wilson with 15 points.

All the above seemed rather fanciful on Feb. 8, when the Knights headed to Central Kitsap to wrap up the regular season. They had lost three straight, including a loss at home to cellar-dwelling Olympic, and had a 4-7 record in the Bridge Division.

“After Olympic beat us, I thought we were in trouble,” Garguile said after the Wilson game as a stream of family members found him on the court and offered words of support. “I thought maybe we were just a disappointment.”

But they turned it on to rout Central Kitsap, then hammered North Kitsap the following Monday in a playoff to decide fourth place. That left them needing to pull off a sweep of the Bay Division’s No. 5 and No. 4 teams (Bellarmine and Wilson) to gain entrée into district.

Now that they had run that gauntlet, they found themselves adrift in the giddy tumult, accepting the congratulations of a sea of well-wishers. Included in that crowd were Marshaun Thompson and Michael Crozier, members of the 1999 squad. It was Thompson who played the role of slam-dunking, crowd-inciting jumping jack during that memorable march to state.

No one is sure what mysterious alchemy produced the last-minute transformation that catapulted them out of oblivion and into district, but the Knights and their swelling corps of supporters certainly enjoyed a good time along the route.

Head coach Casey Lindberg, who wore the look of a condemned man only two weeks ago, suddenly was looking a heck of a lot smarter and brimming with a quiet confidence. Now he could endure some playful teasing from Bremerton football coach Shawn Perkins, who peaked his head inside Lindberg’s office in the aftermath of the Wilson rout and said, “It’s about time you won a game.”

Lindberg said there was “no special formula” behind the Knights’ improved play. “Sometimes they do it, and sometimes they don’t,” he said.

Veteran Port Angeles boys coach Lee Sinnes, whose team split two games with Bremerton this year, said he’s not surprised by the Knights’ resurgence.

“It was more of a shock that they weren’t playing that way all year,” said Sinnes, who was sitting in the bleachers Feb. 9, awaiting the day’s final game, which pitted his Roughriders against the Foss Falcons. “I thought they should’ve been kicking ass all year long. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see them playing in the state tournament. I’m just glad we don’t have to face them right now.”

Bollinger, the hard-charging senior who tossed in the buzzer-beating one-hander that squelched a Bellarmine comeback on Feb. 14, said the gravity of the situation carried its own motivational force.

“I think everybody finally realized it’s over if we lose, and nobody wanted that to happen,” Bollinger said.

Fellow senior Alley said a splash of cold water in the face helped him find inspiration. He was doing sit-ups in the YMCA weight room a while back when he overheard an uncomplimentary conversation concerning the Knights.

“Someone said, ‘Man, that Bremerton team has just been a big disappointment.’ That’s kind of a little wake-up call,” Alley said. “When we began the season, all the hoopla about how good we were going to be kind of set us up. I think we might’ve gotten a little ahead of ourselves.”

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