The Grays Harbor College men’s basketball team rallied to take the lead in the second half then held on for a 64-63 win over the Highline Thunderbirds on Wednesday in Aberdeen.
Grays Harbor (6-10 overall, 2-1 NWAC West) led twice in the first half at 20-19 and 22-21 and kept the game close, never trailing by more than six points in the half and facing a 37-32 deficit at halftime.
In the second half, the Chokers trimmed the Thunderbirds lead to 50-49 after Chokers power forward Justin Loveless made back-to-back buckets, the latter being a three to pull GHC to withing a point.
Tristan Schoepf then buried a corner 3-pointer to give GHC its first lead of the second half at 52-50 with just under eight minutes left in the second half.
But Highline responded with a 6-0 run, taking a 56-52 lead on an Earl Lee three with 6:40 to go.
GHC pulled to within a bucket at 56-54 on a pair of David Featherston free throws and tied the game on a Schoepf jumper with 5:16 remaining.
Highline regained the lead at 58-56 on a Micah Jessie jump shot, but Grays Harbor responded when Dewaine Bell scored on a layup with 4:40 to go.
Bell would then figure into what was arguably the play of the game when he fed Schoepf a perfect bounce pass on the fast break for a layup that put Grays Harbor up for good at 60-58 at 4:22 of the half.
Later in the half, Schoepf scored and was fouled to put GHC up 62-58 and then made a jump shot to put the Chokers up 64-60 at the 1:01 mark.
But Highline (4-13, 1-3) took just a few seconds to charge right back down the court and cut the deficit to 64-63 on a Kenny Curtis three.
Highline had its chances on the final play to leave town with the win, but two missed 3-pointers gave the Chokers a nail-biting 64-63 victory.
Grays Harbor shot 24-for-52 (46.2%) for the game, including 2-for-12 (216.7%) from beyond the arc.
“It was a tough shooting night. We were getting good looks, nobody took bad shots, it just wasn’t falling,” Grays Harbor head coach Matt Vargas said of his team’s strategy to attack the basket. “I’m old school so I’m a big believer in get to the rim, see the ball go through the hoop and confidence will lift.”
Despite being outrebounded 22-15, Grays Harbor’s defense forced 14 turnovers (compared to just eight for GHC) and held Highline to 10-of-26 (38.5%) shooting in the second half.
Schoepf and Featherston led the Chokers with 15 points apiece with Logan Walker (13 points) and Loveless (11 pts.) also finishing in double digits.
Grays Harbor also held sizable advantages in fast-break points (32-21) and bench points (25-16).
“It was a great team win,” Vargas said. “Highline’s record and our record are not indicative of the two teams we are. They were missing players in the first part of the season and we went and played a hellacious first semester of the schedule. … So what you are seeing right now is the fruits of our labor. The fruits of getting our butts kicked by some monsters. … We feel like if we play together, we’re going to be in some ballgames.”
The win is the second in three games for GHC after a long hiatus due to the Northwest Athletic Conference temporarily shutting down the season due to COVID.
GHC is scheduled to face Pierce College at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 2 in Aberdeen.