Pope John Paul II High School trailed its Southwest District 1B playoff game with Naselle by 11 with a minute to play in the third quarter at Saint Martin’s University on Thursday night. The Eagles lost the game by 13, 69-56.
But in between, third-seeded JP2 staged a memorable rally to force overtime that made the game as exciting as any the growing school has played in its short history.
Naselle took its largest lead of regulation, 44-33, on a pair of free throws by Travis Pine. That’s when the Eagles caught fire.
“It was the last game of the year,” said Eagles junior Hieu Vu, who led all scorers with 27 points. “It was our first time hosting a playoff game. We weren’t going to give up.”
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They didn’t. JP2 went on a 17-6 run and caught Naselle, 50-50, on a pair of Vu free throws with 49 seconds to play in regulation.
“I didn’t feel any pressure. I didn’t feel anything,” said Vu of the crucial shots, which came with the added heat of a one-and-one situation.
“These guys have been playing with heart all year,” said Eagles coach Gary Baits. “They trust each other. I’m proud of them.”
The lead changed hands three times in the first overtime, with JP2 taking a 56-54 lead with 43 seconds to go on a free throw by Ibi Ceesay. But Naselle post Ramzi Estes cashed in on an assist from Comets point guard Donny Edwards with 21.5 seconds to play, and a second overtime was in order.
JP2 didn’t have enough left in the tank and was outscored 13-0 in the final four minutes as Edwards finished his 21-point night with six in the final period.
Three other Comets scored in double figures. Pine poured in 13 points, Erik Lund had 12 and Estes added 10. Brandon Dugo had eight and Ceesay six for the Eagles.
Playoff jitters infected both teams in the early going, and it wasn’t until three minutes had gone by that Vu got the scoring going by backing his defender down for an inside basket.
Then, with both teams running and Naselle using a full-court press, the pace picked up, with the lead changing hands six times in the first quarter. Vu scored eight points by himself for JP2, but Estes’ layup off an assist from Pine gave Naselle an 11-10 lead after the first quarter.
The Eagles briefly took the lead back at 14-13, again on an inside basket by Vu, but Naselle’s fast break became more effective as the half went on and the Comets grabbed a 17-16 lead with five minutes left on a free throw by Cole Dorman, his only point of the night and went on to lead by four at the half.
“They’re really athletic and they can shoot,” said Baits of Naselle. “Lots of times we pressure people, but we knew it wouldn’t work with them.”
Despite the crushing nature of the loss, the Eagles, who lose just one senior from this year’s team, believe their future is bright.
“We’ve gotten better and better all three years I’ve been here,” Vu said. “Next year should be a good season.”