Grays Harbor College wrapped up its GHC Men’s Basketball Crossover Tournament, and the first half of the 2019-20 season, with a 77-70 loss to Peninsula on Dec. 22 at Grays Harbor College.
Playing its third game in as many days, the Chokers (9-6 overall) kept the game close at half, trailing by only three points at the break.
But Peninsula (9-2) came out of the locker room in the second half and caught fire. The Pirates went on a 26-4 run over the first eight-plus minutes of the half, taking a 60-35 lead on a layup by O’Nuer Gatluak.
Things got so bad for the Chokers in the half that Grays Harbor head coach Matt Vargas received a technical foul for chiding the referees.
“Hey, I know we stink right now, but we don’t stink that bad,” he said, deriding the officials for what he perceived was an unbalanced distribution of foul calls. “I know it’s a long tournament, but I need you guys to wake up. There is a lot of physical play down at this end too.”
But Vargas wasn’t acting out of emotion, rather, the coach was using the technical as a dual-purpose tactic, hoping his team would start to get some calls and at the same time lighting a spark in his team, which he stated after the game was mentally drained at that point.
“We had nothing to lose at that point,” Vargas said of receiving the technical when his team fell behind by 23 points. “We don’t have housing, so our guys are in some bad spots and they’re exhausted. They’re mentally exhausted, they are physically exhausted. … It’s the end of the semester and they’re asked to play three games in a row. … They’re drained. … It was almost like they were anywhere else but there. I told them they are going to have to find a way to fight that’s going to reflect their character.
“I whispered in the officials’ ear that you are going to have to T me up or I’m going to have to do something really bad. He said, ‘You’ve got to do something demonstrative.’ And I said, ‘Alright, I’ll give it to ya.’”
The strategy worked, as Grays Harbor began to chip away at the Peninsula lead, cutting the deficit to 69-64 on a Zachary Marrotte layup with 2:51 left in the game.
Grays Harbor cut the lead to 74-70 on a Matt Pearson 3-pointer with 38 seconds left, his second long-distance shot of the half.
But time ran out on the Chokers’ comeback attempt as Peninsula converted free throws down the stretch and Grays Harbor failed to make another shot.
Marrotte led Grays Harbor with 19 points on 9-of-15 shooting.
Antoine Hines scored 17 points and grabbed seven rebounds for the Chokers. Michael Sampson (11 points) and Zyare Ruffin (10 points) also scored in double figures for Grays Harbor, which shot 21-of-53 (40%) as a team.
The bulk of Peninsula’s offensive output came from three players. Jaylin Reed (22 pts.), Davien Harris-Williams (20 points) and Malik Moore (20) accounted for 81% of the Pirates’ points.
Vargas said he’s looking forward to what the second half of the season may bring to his young team, though the goal remains the same.
“We’re off to a good start this year, and people know we’re for real,” he said, adding that his entire team has performed in the classroom, which gives them an advantage as team’s typically loose some players due to academic issues when the semester grades are released. “We’re going to be in a good position because the landscape is going to change. … Our goal is to make the NWAC tournament. So I want us to get better one through 12. I want everybody to get better because the conference record is the only thing that matters.”
Grays Harbor opens the second half of the season at home against Pierce College at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 8, at home in Aberdeen.