Pierce, Portland men to match up in NWAACC men's finals

Ben Zimmerman, Special to the HeraldMarch 3, 2014 

Cinderella?

More like Godzilla.

The Portland Community College Panthers had squeaked through the first two rounds of the NWAACC men's basketball championships at the Toyota Center in true upstart fashion, winning by two points, then one.

Their semifinal victory over Skagit Valley on Monday was anything but subtle.

Warren Edmondson snapped out of a shooting slump with 42 points and Josh Turner added 22 points and 12 rebounds as Portland, making its first tournament appearance, brushed aside the Cardinals 96-82 to punch a title-game ticket.

It will face Pierce for the championship at 8 p.m. Tuesday.

“I think eveybody's probably shocked,” said Turner. “But we belong here.”

In avenging a 91-64 loss to the Cardinals in late November, Portland (22-9) handled the biggest hardwood stage in school history with grizzled-veteran moxie. It landed the first punch, grabbing Edmondson's cape and holding on for the ride as he drilled 7 of 10 3-pointers in the first half.

And it countered Skagit's inevitable run in the second half with defensive grit and offensive poise, slapping a 13-0 run on the Cardinals for having the audacity to reclaim the lead.

"We knew we were playing a very good team. We knew we'd have to withstand a run," Portland head coach Tony Broadus said. "One of the keys to our success all season has been our ability to battle adversity. This is a gritty group of young men that have battled a lot of personal adversity."

"The coaches calmed us down," said Turner, who hit four consecutive free throws to spark the 13-0 surge. "We ran our sets. We crashed the boards. We got stops."

Sporting blue, Chris Paul Jordan-brand high-tops in lieu of glass slippers, Edmondson backed his first-half brilliance with three consecutive buckets during the decisive run. He sneaked behind the defense for an easy lay-in, swished a step-back jumper just off the elbow and then splashed a 3 to make it 72-60 wth 5:56 to go.

Skagit Valley was never able to get closer than eight after that.

"I hadn't had it all tournament," said Edmondson. "Coach told me to keep shooting. I wasn't even hitting in warm-ups. But my teammates kept telling me, 'You're gonna hit.'"

Consider them vindicated. Edmondson finished 14-of-21 from the field and 9-for-13 from deep.

"Unbelievable," said Turner. "He was due for a game. I told him I needed him this game."

"Sometimes, it takes a little time to get adjusted in a big building like this," Broadus added. "I had a feeling tonight would be his night."

SKAGIT VALLEY — Elijah Smith 4-12 8-11 16, Greg Cox 5-9 2-2 14, Diggs 1-5 0-0 2, Malik Barnes 4-9 1-2 11, Isaac Ladines 6-9 1-1 13, Payne 3-8 0-0 8, Dustin Watts 4-10 3-4 11, Garcia 1-2 0-0 3, Billingsly 2-5 0-0 4. Totals 30-69 15-20 82.
PORTLAND — Warren Edmondson 14-21 5-6 42, Tremaine Channel 2-4 4-4 10, Josh Turner 6-17 8-8 22, Appleton 0-4 0-0 0, Tupper 3-8 0-0 6, Bailey 1-4 0-0 2, Wood 0-0 1-2 1, Hines II 0-1 0-0 0, CJ Easterling 6-8 1-2 13. Totals 32-67 19-22 96.
Halftime— Portland 52-44. 3-point goals—SV 7-24 (Smith 0-2, Cox 2-5, Diggs 0-2, Barnes 2-5, Payne 2-6, Watts 0-2, Garcia 1-1, Billingsly 0-1), P 13-25 (Edmondson 9-13, Channel 2-2, Turner 2-5, Tupper 0-3, Hines II 0-1). Rebounds—SV 31 (Smith 6), P 49 (Turner 12). Assists—SV 19 (Smith 9), P 20 (Channel 5). Turnovers—SV 14, P 21. Fouls—SV 18, P 17.

Pierce 77, Highline 71: Christopher Parker sparked Pierce early before passing the mic to Isaac Barsh, and David Baze helped steady the ship when it sprang a leak.

But it was a collective, statistically anonymous effort that pushed the Raiders (23-6) to the brink of an NWAACC championship.

Pierce held Highline scoreless during a pivotal two-minute sequence down the stretch of what became a 77-71 victory to clinch a spot in the tournament title game opposite Portland. The string of defensive stops personified the team chemistry Raiders head coach Bill Mendelson believes is what makes his squad special.

"There isn't one player in high school who dreams of playing junior college ball," said Mendelson. "No one's plan is to come to Pierce. But these guys really care about each other, and everyone has bought into this program. "I'm really happy for them."

Pierce won all four meetings against Highline this season, and was in control for most of the fourth showdown Monday. But it got sloppy, and the Thunderbirds took advantage.

A three-point play by the Thunderbirds' Jimmy Keum carved a once-fat Pierce advantage (it led by 16 at the 10-minute mark) to three with 2:45 to go when the Raiders set their defensive heels and turned the tide. After forcing a desperate 3-point heave that sailed over the backboard at one end, Pierce ran clock and let Parker attack.

He was fouled and made two free throws.

A Parker steal led to two Devin Matthews free throws, and a steal and fast-break basket by Barsh stretched the lead back to nine inside the final minute. "Our execution wasn't that great for a while, but we all played D as a group," said Parker, who hit four of his first six 3-point attempts in the first half as Pierce built an early double-digit lead. "This win gives us confidence. We know we still pulled out a win even though we made mistakes."

Parker's early stroke helped clear the middle for Barsh, who had a game-high 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting. And Baze, a milquetoast 0-for-1 shooting with a rebound over nine-plus minutes in the first half, exploded for five consecutive baskets to help Pierce extend the 16-point halftime lead. He had 15 points. Matthews added 11 points and 12 rebounds.

Joseph Stroud had 15 points, and Doug McDaniel chipped in 14 points and 10 rebounds for Highline (22-8).

Pierce last appeared in a title game in 2011, when it lost to Peninsula. It is seeking its first men’s championship.

"This is a well-deserving team, and these are the kind of kids you root for," Mendelson said. "They are very unselfish. They earned it tonight."

HIGHLINE — Harold Lee 5-10 3-4 13, McCaffrey 2-6 0-0 5, Joseph Stroud 4-6 6-9 15, Brown 1-4 1-2 3, Doug McDaniel 4-13 4-8 14, Tucakovic 3-7 0-0 8, Jimmy Keum 4-12 2-2 13. Totals 23-58 16-25 71.
PIERCE — Jacobs 3-9 1-2 8, Devin Matthews 3-9 4-4 11, Isaac Barsh 8-12 2-3 18, Christopher Parker 5-13 2-5 17, Loranger 1-7 1-4 3, David Baze 5-7 3-4 15, Royster 0-0 0-0 0, Johnson 0-0 0-0 0, Jeffries 1-5 2-2 5. Totals 26-62 15-24 77.
Halftime— Pierce 43-31. 3-point goals—H 9-25 (Lee 0-1, McCaffrey 1-3, Stroud 1-1, Brown 0-2, McDaniel 2-7, Tucakovic 2-3, Keum 3-8), P 10-24 (Jacobs 1-4, Matthews 1-4, Parker 5-12, Baze 2-2, Jeffries 1-2). Rebounds—H 35 (McDaniel 10), P 45 (Matthews 12). Assists—H 13 (Lee 7), P 20 (Matthews 7). Turnovers—H 14, P 14. Fouls—H 20, P 19. Fouled out—Lee, Stroud.

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