Life Christian spent much of the second half against Vashon Island hitting big shots and going on runs to keep in contention. It was the final shot, which would have been a game-winner at the buzzer, that didn’t fall as the Eagles lost 67-66 to the Pirates at home on Dec. 18.
The Pirates went up 64-56 with just over four minutes left on a three-pointer by Jessie Norton – who had a game-high 23 points – but Paul Kunitsa later answered with two threes for the Eagles, the second of which pulled them within 67-65 with just over a minute remaining. After Vashon’s Ian Stewart later missed the front end of a one-and-one at the foul line with 11 seconds left and a 67-66 lead, the Eagles got the rebound and set up for one last look at the basket. But the shot rattled off the rim, and time ran out.
“This is a young group,” said Eagles head coach Mark Lovelady, whose starting lineup didn’t feature any seniors. “I’m expecting for them to just grow in these games, win these games in the future and take it into the next couple years.”
Life Christian sophomore center Luke Grocott dominated in the middle early, scoring six early points as the Eagles jumped out to a 10-6 lead. Grocott, who finished with a team-high 18 points and 10 rebounds in just his fourth-ever varsity game, was quick to credit his teammates for the success. “They were just swinging the ball around and I was getting good position, and they were giving me good passes,” he said. “I just had to make one move and go up.”
Senior Chris Anderson came off the bench to score six points late in the first, and Tyler Bogue had two early baskets in the second quarter to give the Eagles a 29-24 lead. But Vashon stormed back with a 9-0 run behind Jessie Norton, who finished with a game-high 23 points.
Jordan Bowles and Taylor Roelofs led the Eagles’ charge in the third quarter, scoring four early points apiece as Bowles layup after a steal tied it 39-39 with just under six minutes left in the third. But Norton and Ben Whitaker – who had 14 points for Vashon – again responded, and Thomas Douglas gave the Pirates a 55-46 lead with a three-pointer late in the third. Grocott took over again early in the fourth, as he scored 10 of his points in the period to help the Eagles keep pace.
“He’s starting to come into his own,” said Lovelady. “He’s got great footwork, soft touch with his left and right hand.”
Bowles then cut it to 64-59 with just over two minutes left after repeatedly battling for a rebound, leading to Kunitsa’s clutch buckets the last few possessions. Kunitsa hit four three-pointers and finished with 15 points off the bench, while Bowles and Bogue finished with eight points apiece for Life Christian. Stewart added nine points for the Pirates.
Despite the bitter finish, Grocott noted the experience can be a positive for his squad. “We can build off this. When we work this hard and lose, we just keep getting hungrier and we want to keep working.”