Boys blitz winless Bremerton

"Both coaches were clear on what happened, and why, when the Bremerton High School boys’ basketball team played Bainbridge in an Olympic League boys’ game at Woodward Middle School Friday.Bainbridge coach Jeff Eller said his team won, 49-44, by taking care of that which it could control. His Bremerton counterpart, Casey Lindberg, said the Knights lost because of the one thing they couldn’t control.“The shots wouldn’t fall down the stretch,” shrugged Lindberg, whose struggling team kept itself in contention the entire game, but couldn’t shoot itself past the host Spartans. “Our kids played well all night. The thing that beat us was the only thing that was out of our control.”Eller, whose Class 3A team improved its league mark to 3-1 (4-2 overall), said his team settled down nicely when it counted to protect a tenuous lead from a Bremerton team.The Knights, uncharacteristically, were looking for their first win (0-7) after taking a fifth-place finish at the state 3A tournament last season.It’s been an interesting rivalry the past few seasons, with Bremerton holding the upper hand last year after Bainbridge dispatched the Knights in a do-or-die West Central District championship thriller two seasons ago in Tacoma for a berth at state.Gone this year are the catalysts from those teams, such as Miah Davis, Angelo Lundy and Marshaun Thompson.Their absence was the reason Bainbridge, not playing its best through most of the contest, was able to generate enough at the end to pull away.“I was disappointed in our execution the first three quarters,” said Eller, who got a couple of key plays from senior guard Tyler Burkland in the fourth quarter. “The last part, we simplified things, and we had some great execution.”Earlier in the game, Eller said, his troops might have been trying to be a little too fine.“We missed some opportunities in the first half, we missed some layups,” he said. “Guys think it’s got to be a million-dollar play, instead of just doing the simple thing.”When it got down to brass tacks, though – when Bremerton’s Michael Stitt hit a pull-up jumper in the lane to pull the Knights into a 35-all tie – the Spartans found ways to get things back under their control. First, Burkland stole the ball and drove for a layup to give Bainbridge the lead back, this time for good. Then Nick Thompson followed with a layup and Zach Whedbee knocked down a fade-away shot in the key for a six-point lead. Burkland’s three-point play a moment later put Bainbridge ahead 44-37 with less than two minutes left to play.The Spartans actually led by eight, 49-41, before Stitt nailed his fourth 3-point bucket of the day at the final buzzer.Stitt, a sophomore, had a game-high 20 points, and his backcourt mate, Mike Crozier, added 14. Lindberg said, however, that Stitt didn’t take enough shots, and Crozier didn’t make enough of the ones he got.“I was pleased with our shot selection the whole game,” said Lindberg, whose team was coming off a heartbreaking loss at the buzzer to Sequim in its previous outing. “Those shots usually drop for Mike (Crozier). Tonight, they just weren’t.”Still, he added: “We had a narrow lead a lot of the game. We were close the whole way. It’s like our season – we’re right around the corner.”Bainbridge’s offense was more balanced, led by the 14 points of Drew Stenesen, who did the majority of his damage in the halfcourt sets, and guards Burkland and Thompson, who added 12 and 10, mostly from the open court. Whedbee and Adam Brenneman, who played down the stretch in place of starters Gabe Griffin and Mike Botefuhr, contributed their headiest play of the season to date.“We did some good things boxing out (on defense),” Eller said. “The worst thing would’ve been to give them second opportunities. We wanted to force them to shoot well to beat us.”The Spartans are off until Dec. 29, when they open a two-day tournament in Victoria, B.C. They return to league action against Olympic Jan. 4 and make their debut in the new BHS gymnasium Jan. 11.Bainbridge JV 47, Bremerton 36: Chris Mandell scored nine points on 4-of-6 shooting to lead the Spartans (3-3). Henry Guterson contributed seven points and five rebounds.# # #Review sports editor Jim Thomsen contributed to this report."

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