This unofficial “Tribute Season” at Clover Park took a positive step forward on Friday night.
Four Warriors scored in double digits, Marcel Hurst recorded a double-double and Clover Park ran away from host Foss in the second half for a 75-53 Class 2A South Puget Sound League basketball victory.
Clover Park is playing its first season since 1994 without longtime coach Mel Ninnis, who lost his battle with cancer last August.
“At the beginning of the season, it was a little rocky with everything going and losing Mel,” former assistant and now head coach Anthony Crawford said. “They’re dedicating this year to Mel. Right before the season, when they asked for a new head coach, me and Ryan (Ninnis, Mel’s son) talked about it. It was only fitting for us to go forward.”
The season got off to a somewhat rocky start, however. Between stops and starts due to Covid-19 protocols, including having the team’s second game of the year canceled, the Christmas layoff and then the snow storm just before the start of the new year, Clover Park had gotten little rhythm started in bobbing and weaving to a 4-4 overall record and 3-3 in the SPSL.
But on Friday at the Falcons, Hurst dominated on the glass with 10 rebounds while he and John Simpson each scored a game-high 17 points to get the Warriors rolling.
The big move came in a third quarter that saw Clover Park outscore Foss 28-12, extending a modest but comfortable 33-25 lead to an insurmountable 61-37 advantage entering the fourth quarter. Simpson scored eight of his 17 in the period to lead the charge.
Not that this team found satisfaction with the large win.
“I think we could have played better than that, even tonight,” Hurst said. “We came off a tough home game against Enumclaw, we played scrappy and everything. But against this team, I think we could have played better.”
Clover Park got out in front early, 7-2, only to have the Falcons (4-5, 2-3) race back into it. Jamie Killian-Howard scored four of his 13 points, the second basket with 1 minute, 54 seconds to play in the first quarter, to stake Foss to a 12-9 lead.
But Erenst Balezi’s layup at the quarter buzzer tied the game at 15-15. It stayed close through the first five minutes of the second quarter before Clover Park finished out the half on an 11-2 spurt to take that 33-25 lead at the break.
“Now that we’ve gotten back into the gym, I think everything is coming together,” Crawford said. “Marcel has always been a leader, ever since he was a freshman. But we’ve got a really good team. So at any point, any one of us can step up. The other night Xavier Patterson had 18.”
Against the Falcons, Patterson had 11 and Balezi added 10 to go with the pair of 17-point scorers.
“Tonight, John Simpson had 17,” Crawford continued. “So, it’s a total team effort. They play so hard, and I love that. This year is going to be a very emotional season for us, and they’re playing like it right now.”
Ninnis had cultivated this group that includes eight seniors and juniors all the way through last spring’s Covid-19 delayed season before things got bad this summer. That left Simpson, Balezi, Patter, Hurst and the rest of the guys with a mission to get to districts, maybe regionals or beyond.
“This year, we’ve just gotten back in the gym and working, working,” Hurst said. “We just have to get the chemistry together, build the brothership, the family. We’re doing it for Coach Ninnis.”