Northport faces loser-out game with Cusick

Valley Christian sends NHS to loser-bracketNorthport High (18-4) will face Cusick (10-12) in a District 7 1B boy’s loser-out game Wednesday at Deer Park High School. Game time is 5 p.m.The Mustangs, who dropped a 59-37 decision to third-ranked Valley Christian (19-2) last Saturday night at Deer Park High School, will play Cusick for the fourth time this season.Northport is 3-0 against the Panthers to date, but if the first three encounters with their Panorama League rivals haven’t necessarily been buzzer-beaters, they’ve been close.“We have managed to beat them three times,” NHS coach Erik Stark said of Wednesday’s fourth meeting between the two schools. “But they have been tough.”In the first round of District 7 1B play back on Feb. 7 at home, Northport posted a wild, final second come-from-behind 49-47 win over Odessa-Harrington. Mirror imageStark said that the match-up with Odessa-Harrington came against a team “that is a mirror image of us. Neither team has a dominant middle man…both teams do a lot of pressing, trapping and perimeter shooting.”This one was bound to be close—and it was.O-H ran a 2-2-1 press that Northport had its issues with (20 turnovers). By the same token, Northport’s pressure forced 19 turnovers.O-H scored the last 10 points of the second quarter to take a 28-18 lead into halftime. Cade Webber went off for 14 first half points for the Titans.Stark and the Mustangs went to a 1-2-2 half-court trap in the third quarter that resulted in a couple of quick turnovers. “But Odessa seemed to pick up a steal or hit a big shot every time we got something going,” Stark said. NHS cut the O-H lead to nine points heading into the fourth quarter and went back to their full-court man to try and create some pressure.NHS heats upThe tactic worked and the Titans managed only one of 12 from the field in the fourth quarter. Northport got hot, hitting six of nine field goal attempts, including a trio of three-pointers.Belgiun foreign exchange student Freddy Verhaeghe and Josh Konkler combined for 15 of Northport’s 16 fourth quarter points and 28 of the Mustangs’ 31second half points. This one came down to the final possession.With the score tied at 47-all, Odessa-Harrington called timeout in front of their bench with 25 seconds left in the fourth quarter.Stark told his kids to play tough man-to-man and try for a steal, but to foul at about the 15 second mark so NHS could get a last shot opportunity.But team captain Jeremiah Johnson would have none of that in the huddle.“No, coach,” Johnson said. “We’ll stop them without fouling.”Was that a little democracy during a timeout?O-H ran a dribble weave offense at the top when Jared King took the ball with about 10 seconds left and drove left down the lane. Northport’s David Higgins and Verhaeghe elevated to challenge King’s shot and King tried to adjust to a scoop finger roll that bounced off the rim, where Verhaeghe picked off the rebound in the corner with 5.2 seconds left, turned quickly up the sideline and saw Konkler open on the left wing. His cross-court pass was money. Konkler caught the pass in stride, stepped around a Titans’ defender and put up a lay-in with one second left.“The ball toilet-bowled on the rim with one second left,” Stark related. “The ball paused and fell through as time expired.”The Mustangs had survived yet another white-knuckle, heart-stopper that threatened to turn Stark’s hair a premature gray. ‘Blessed’No, that isn’t a school color.“I am not sure why we have been blessed with so many clutch shots this year,” Stark marveled. “But we have and I’ll take ‘em.”It was left to the witty foreign exchange student Verhaeghe to put it all in perspective after the game.“We came, we saw…we Konkler(ed),” he quipped.Eat your heart out, coach J. Caesar. In the loss to Valley Christian, NHS simply had trouble with too much VC height and depth.“They are big and loaded,” Stark said of VC and his team’s second loss this season to the 1B powerhouse. “But I was proud of the kids. We executed our game plan about as well as we could. We just got into foul trouble and had trouble hitting much of anything.”Northport was a cold 14 of 54 from the field and managed only 13 second half points. Two Northport starters fouled out in the third quarter.Win or lose on Wednesday, The Mustangs have turned in a banner season. The team’s only losses have been to tall and talented VC and to Wellpinit.“It’s tough for us to handle their size,” Stark said of VC and WHS. Stark said Wednesday’s fourth engagement with Cusick won’t be easy, but nothing at this juncture of the season is supposed to be.“I’m optimistic,” Stark said. “The kids have been playing well.”A win over Cusick would likely get NHS a date with Almira/Coulee-Hartline for a berth to the 1B Harwood Classic state tournament and a regional.That game will be played Saturday at Deer Park High School (12:30 p.m.).OTHER GAMESIn other District 7 1B boy’s games last week, Wellpinit (18-5) blew out St. Michael’s (9-12) 84-48 at home back on Feb. 7 behind A.J. Kieffer’s 26 points, 15 rebounds and seven blocked shots. Running-mate Greg Wynecoop added 18 points and 15 boards.Wellpinit went on a 25-5 third quarter run to put the game away.In other district action, ACH got past stubborn Cusick 64-56 back on Feb. 7 behind Derek Isaak’s 20 points.Derrick Bluff led Cusick with 15 points.Also on Feb. 7, Valley Christian overwhelmed Selkirk 70-30 behind Craver Small’s 20 points.In loser-out games on Saturday, Odessa-Harrington eliminated Selkirk (9-15) 68-60 behind Stetson Sanford’s 20 points and Justin Hunt’s 17.Nick Gardner led Selkirk with 18 points.Wellpinit gets past tough ACH in semi’sIn the other winner’s bracket game on Saturday, Wellpinit eased past ACH 52-45 behind Kieffer’s 21 points and 11 boards.Isaak led all scorers with 23 points for the Warriors (16-6).Wellpinit used a 16-5 third quarter run in the come-from-behind win.Wellpinit and Valley Christian will play for the District 7 1B championship and top seed to regionals on Saturday at 5 p.m. at Deer Park High School.SCHEDULEOn Wednesday, Feb. 15 at DPHS, Cusick and Northport will play at 5 p.m., followed by ACH and Odessa-Harrington at 6:45.On Saturday, Feb. 18, boy’s games will run at 12:30 and 2:15 p.m. for regional seeding. The boy’s title game is scheduled for 5 p.m.