Cougs come closer

"For the last several years, the Central Kitsap Cougars been just a distant image in the rear-view mirror of the Olympic League's elite girls basketball teams.This year, the Cougars have pulled up into the next lane, and are peering across at the Class 4A Port Angeles Roughriders and 3A Bainbridge Spartans. Looking for a race.Though they have yet to cross the finish line first, the Cougs' recent down-to-the-line drags with the Roughriders (Jan. 19) and Spartans (last Friday night at CK), both 58-55 losses, bode well for the future.Good teams make a stand, Cougar coach Denise Baxter said after her team fought its way into the lead after three quarters of its Senior Night game with BI, only to slip down the stretch. We're a good team, and we're getting better.Good enough to end an 0-6 drought in the upcoming West Central District 4A playoffs, which the Cougs will enter as the Olympic League's No. 2 representative behind Port Angeles?That depends, Baxter said, on the impetuousness of youth.Our young kids know nothing about West Central District, she laughed of a Cougar team which has three sophomores in the starting lineup and just two players - Cassie Llewellyn and Sunshine Monastrial - who were on the varsity last year. I spent most of this season teaching them about the league. Now that we've clinched (a WCD berth), I can start teaching them about that level.Baxter stopped a moment, then shrugged and offered, Who knows? They're competitive kids, and maybe (district) is just another game to them.Both the league's top teams, perennial state 4A entrant Port Angeles and a Bainbridge team two years removed from the state 3A championship, had gotten used to controlling the Cougars in their twice-a-season matchups. But the Jan. 19 PA victory, which went to overtime, and Friday's nail-biter are evidence that things might've changed a little.We knew it'd be a close game - we've seen what they've done this season, Bainbridge coach Penny Gienger said of the Cougs, who were 59-50 victims when the two teams played Jan. 5 on the island. I love this kind of game, and it's going to be good for both teams going into the playoffs.When Cassie Llewellyn, who scored a team-high 18 points, converted an offensive rebound with 2 minutes, 34 seconds left to play, the Cougars trailed Bainbridge by just one point, 54-53. Unfortunately, it'd be more than two minutes before CK could score again. In the meantime, Alice Russell nailed a baseline jumper and Fab Rezayat drained both ends of a 1-and-1 from the free throw line for a five-point cushion.We needed a couple of crucial stops down the stretch and we didn't get them, Baxter said of the fourth quarter, in which Bainbridge outscored the Cougars 13-7. They got a few too many second chances on the offensive board.Emily Pierce, who has become BI's frontcourt leader since Alexis Kimball was lost to injury early in the season, got two of those second-chance buckets to help the Spartans gain the upper hand in the fourth quarter, which began with CK clutching a 48-45 lead. Her rebound layup tied the game at 48, and later she hit another rebound bucket and followed with a fall-away jumper for a 54-50 lead.Just as important to Bainbridge was the play of junior point guard Rezayat, who ran the offense, hit the two free throws that put her team up 58-53 with 31 seconds left and helped break up a couple of CK offensive threats.She's been on my team since she was a freshman, Gienger said of Rezayat. She was a starter on a state championship team when she was a freshman, so she's got some experience. She quieted things down a couple times when we needed her to.The Cougs' last best chance was foiled after Nicole Zgymontowicz's perimeter jumper pulled them within three points with 20 seconds to go. Rezayat missed the opener of a 1-and-1, but Russell grabbed the rebound and tossed it out Pierce, forcing CK to foul again. "

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