The Puyallup High boys basketball team’s senior core stepped up Tuesday night to help the Vikings earn their first win of the new year.
With a strong showing during the winter break, Puyallup wanted to start its second half of 4A SPSL South play on the right foot after entering Emerald Ridge’s gym.
“We always treat these rivalry games seriously,” Tony Gutierrez said. “We want to beat them every time we step on the court with them.”
Behind the clutch defense of Gutierrez and the timely shooting of Devin Neff, Puyallup (10-2, 4-1 SPSL South) escaped with a 48-43 win over the Jaguars, moving the Vikings into second place and dropping ER to third.
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“It’s a rivalry game. With ER and with Rogers, all three teams will come out and fight,” Puyallup coach Scott Campbell said. “They came out and played hard in the second half, but I was really proud of our guys handling their run, and taking control of the game.”
The Vikings got into a groove in the second quarter behind Neff’s nine points (4-of-6 shooting, 1 of 2 from three), Puyallup was able to ride a 28-16 lead into halftime.
“Jaden (Vollmen) kept attracting the defense, and (he) gave me wide-open shots,” Neff said.
Neff finished with a game-high 16 points, with Gutierrez adding 13 for Puyallup.
Everything went Puyallup’s way in the first half, leaving Emerald Ridge with an uphill battle at the halfway point.
“We didn’t play with enough energy at times,” Emerald Ridge guard Daniel Gregory said. “We had good chances, but we didn’t make our shots.”
ER coach Pat Mullen agreed.
“Our youth showed up,” Mullen said. “We had our chances, but we didn’t get everyone involved like we wanted to tonight … (Puyallup’s) guys — their senior core — stepped up for them tonight.”
Emerald Ridge (6-6) came out of the half putting the pressure on Puyallup during a comeback attempt. Behind Gregory’s 15 points (10 in the second half) and Donald Bango’s 11, Emerald Ridge was able to tie the game at 37 with two minutes left.
But after Vollmen missed a layup, a loose ball found Neff standing alone in the left wing, and he nailed an easy 3-pointer to take back the lead for the Vikings. Puyallup never looked back, finishing the game with a 5-for-6 performance from the free-throw line to secure the win.
“That’s the amount of focus that’s within the rivalry game,” Neff said of his hot hand. “It’s huge to get the win over a rival. It’s bigger than any other game.”
Emerald Ridge is left with some questions as the Jags start a tough schedule to begin the new year. With Andrew Boston (eight points, 12 rebounds) just starting to figure things out, Mullen sees potential with his club despite the tough loss.
“We have to find ways to get Andrew involved more, and there were times we could have fed him down low or at the block,” Mullen said. “But he’s just getting into basketball shape after not touching a ball all summer and fall.”
Getting him involved will be key for Emerald Ridge having a steady presence in the post. But to do that, the Jags will need to keep their big man on the floor; Boston fouled out late in the game against Puyallup.
“I need to find a way to stay on the floor for my team,” Boston admitted. “I can’t allow myself to get any stupid fouls, like reaching in, when a guy gets by me.”
“That’s something he’ll adjust to as the season goes along,” Mullen said.
Emerald Ridge will need Boston at his best as the Jaguars travel to Curtis (12-1, 5-0) on Thursday. Puyallup will host rival Rogers (3-10, 1-4) on Thursday.