Playing without 6-foot-8 center Lucas Meikle was sure to be a tough task for Bellarmine against a good Olympia squad on Dec. 16. Once another key big man, Sefo Liufau, was relegated to the bench with foul trouble early in the game, the task became tougher. Despite missing two key pieces, the Lions’ defense stood firm, and the offense did just enough to claim a 51-49 victory and remain undefeated on the year.
“We still did what we do,” said Bellarmine coach Bernie Salazar. “Our team responded really well to the adversity…I think we can build on this.”
With Liufau picking up his third foul less than three minutes into the game, and point guard Isaiah Flynn struggling to score in the first half, David Smith shouldered the load for the Lions, finishing with a game-high 16 points. During a back-and-forth first half, Smith put the Lions up 25-21 at the break with a three-pointer with three seconds remaining.
“You’ve got to step up and be a leader regardless of who’s in the game and who’s not,” Smith said. “We have a really deep bench, and a lot of our guys were stepping up and making the best of the situation.”
Flynn, who finished with seven points, helped boost the Lions to a 37-29 lead halfway through the third quarter with a three-point play and a jumper in the lane. But Olympia stayed in the game thanks to the three-point shooting of Dominick Francks, who finished with 13 points, and the inside shooting of David Carlson, whose layup as time expired in the third quarter tied the game at 39-39.
That set the stage for a hectic fourth quarter, as Francks put Olympia up with a three-pointer on the first series, but Smith later gave the Lions a 46-44 lead with a three of his own two minutes later. With Bellarmine leading 51-48 with 15 seconds remaining, Olympia was handed a great opportunity to tie when Trevor Hauser was fouled on a three-point attempt. Houser made only one of three attempts, but Liufau missed both free throw attempts at the other end for Bellarmine to give the Bears another chance. Liufau made up for his mistake moments later by deflecting a pass, and Smith secured it to seal the game for the Lions with seconds remaining.
“Our goal is to keep the other team under 50 points every game, and we did that. So I’m pretty happy about it,” said Smith, adding that defending Francks was challenging. “He was on, he was hitting so we wanted to make sure to close on him.”
“I think we’re getting better, little by little, and I really like our team chemistry,” added Salazar. “We have good players, good depth. They understood they needed to step up, and they did.”
The Lions also edged defending 3A state champ Lakes 57-55 on Dec. 20 to improve to 6-0 on the season, and now head to Bethesda, Md. for the Father George Classic Tournament starting on Dec. 28.
By Jeremy Helling
LIFE CHRISTIAN HANDLED BY STEILACOOM
Coming into the game at 7-2 and being ranked fourth in the state has a way of working wonders for a team, regardless of the opponent. The Steilacoom Sentinels would have none of it on Dec. 20 as they rattled off 13 consecutive points to turn a 7-4 deficit into a 17-7 lead, a lead they would not relinquish as they would defeat the Life Christian Eagles by a score of 69-44 at the Korum Athletic Center.
“We came out real flat tonight and not as fired up tonight as I hoped we’d be,” said Life Christian head coach Mark Lovelady, who will have to get his team back on track on Dec. 27 at the Chelan Tournament in Eastern Washington.
A very good team from the SPSL 2A, Steilacoom used a patient approach on the offensive end, moving the ball well and staying one step ahead of the Eagles on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court. Matt Bender would lead all scorers with 17 points while Jake Esseln chipped in with 15. Shortly before the half, the Sentinels would increase their lead to 17 as Life Christian would continuously look for ways to get back in the game.
“We knew they would come out in their two-two-one zone but we still could not find a way to consistently score against it. They’re a real good team,” said Eagles guard Jordan King, who would lead Life in scoring with 14 points on the night while his backcourt mate Charles Davis would chip in with 10 points.
Coming into the game, Lovelady found out that he would be without his man in the middle, center Karson Kuehner, but the way that Steilacoom executed it might not have made a difference.
“We were so lethargic and way off balance at the start of the game that it would not have mattered much if Karson were here,” Lovelady added.
After the trip to Chelan next week, the Eagles turn their thoughts to Nisqually League play. “Everybody will be after us as we’ll get their best every game,” said King. “We’ll have to be a lot better than we were tonight.”
By Steve Mullen