The Grays Harbor Chokers men’s basketball team played about as good as a team could coming off a long Christmas break, blowing out Pierce College 93-68 in a league-opening victory on Jan. 8 in Aberdeen.
Grays Harbor looked no worse for wear playing for the first time in 17 days, taking an 11-point lead at 29-18 after Tristan Schoepf grabbed an offensive rebound and fed a cutting Genuine Powell, who scored and was fouled to convert a 3-point play at the 5:52 mark of the half.
The Chokers rounded out the half with a 3-pointer from former Willapa Valley standout Matthew Pearson followed by a drive and layup from Powell with three second left to take a 48-31 lead into halftime.
Pearson stayed hot to open the second half, hitting three 3-pointers over the first three minutes to stretch Grays Harbor’s lead to 57-35.
Pierce was able to get to within 20 points of the Chokers at 77-60 after a Torrey Cady jumper completed a 6-0 Raiders run at the 6:50 mark, causing Grays Harbor head coach Matthew Vargas to direct his team to pick up the energy.
The Chokers responded by going on a 13-0 run, capped by back-to-back baskets from Zyare Ruffin, to take a 90-60 lead with 3:20 left.
But the Chokers weren’t done impressing with the game well in hand. Chokers guard Michael Sampson, playing with four fouls for much of the second half, made a statement with a hard block and foul on Pierce’s Keivon Singleton. Singleton rose up for an emphatic two-handed dunk attempt with just over two minutes left in the game, but Sampson would have none of it, blocking away the attempt while being whistled with a rim-protecting foul.
It was the type of aggressive play that typified the Chokers’ defensive effort the entire game.
“That’s what I love about this team,” Vargas said. “They compete and there is no selfishness. … Michael Sampson is a phenomenal athlete and is definitely an NCAA Division II player. He couldn’t get it going tonight (offensively) and said as he’s coming off the floor, ‘Sorry coach. I couldn’t get my rhythm so I started passing the ball.’ That’s how they all are. …. It’s contagious and it’s fun to coach.”
Grays Harbor scored 27 points off turnovers and forced 13 steals in the game in addition to pressuring the Raiders to 45% shooting on the evening.
Offensively, Grays Harbor had four players score in double figures, led by Powell, who had 22 on 7-11 shooting, including a perfect 8-for-8 from the foul line.
Ruffin scored 19 points, most of those coming in the paint.
Schoepf had 11 points with Hines and former Aberdeen Bobcats all-leaguer Ben Dublanko scoring eight and six points, respectively.
Grays Harbor shot 51% from the field, including an impressive 11-for-22 (50%) from beyond the arc.
The Chokers depth also showed on Tuesday as the bench outscored Pierce 38-27.
Vargas was visibly excited with his team’s performance after winning its first league game of the season after such a long time away from in-game basketball.
“I don’t know where we’re going to end up in the region, but I know you can go to the NWAC standing and see it says 1-0 in first place is Grays Harbor,” Vargas said of the win. “We’ve got to take whatever little tiny victory we can take along the way to get this thing turned around and become the power that we think we can be.”