Gig Harbor boys basketball reflects on a season to remember
Everybody associated with the Gig Harbor boys basketball team of 2021- 22 probably liked the feeling of Monday’s warm sunshine, blooming flowers and the rising temperatures of March.
But in the back of their minds, they surely must have been thinking: Why did the basketball season with all those good times ever have to end?
The homegrown Gig Harbor team took this town on a magical ride to an undefeated (15-0) home record, a South Sound Conference title, three straight playoff wins and a regional victory against O’Dea. Then, at the state tournament in Tacoma, they gave a Rainier Beach team that would eventually finish second all that it could handle.
The season will fill the memory banks of fans young and old for years to come.
So, let’s look back at some of the special moments for the 2021-’22 Tides and also look ahead to next season, when Gig Harbor returns three of the state’s best players at their positions and will be on the short list of favorites to win the 2023 Class 3A state championship.
An unbeaten beginning
The season started a couple days after Thanksgiving, on a cold night against a scrappy South Kitsap team. Luke Browne had 25 points and 15 rebounds and Asher Raquiza had 23 points and nine rebounds in a 20-point victory over the Wolves.
The third game of the year was one of the biggest, against a Timberline team that would become Gig Harbor’s chief rival for the conference title. Both Browne and Will Landram scored 24 points in a hard-fought 73-71 home victory over the Blazers. Christian Parrish chipped in with 15 points and six steals and the large crowd seemed to sense that this season may be special.
Gig Harbor ripped a couple more opponents by a large margin before they took their show on the road to Peninsula High School in a highly anticipated game against the crosstown-rival Seahawks. The Hawks were fresh off a victory on the football field, overcoming a 28-0 deficit to beat the Tides in overtime.
Eight Tides basketball players had also been on the gridiron for that game and wanted revenge. That showed in a blowout of epic proportions, as a packed house watched Gig Harbor build an unbelievable 54-6 lead in the fourth quarter. The Tides won the largest margin in series history, 60-14. Seniors Parker Born and Ryan Pickles combined for 26 points.
Capital High School was next and they got an eyeful of Luke Browne, who connected on six 3-pointers and scored 31 points. The 7-0 Tides followed that with a 30-point win at Mercer Island, with four players scoring in double figures. Then followed three more SSC wins, highlighted by the defensive wizardry of Parrish, who collected 25 steals in the first five league games.
Then adversity struck as the Omicron variant of Covid-19 introduced itself, forcing Parrish and Browne to sit out games. Other Tides stepped up, with Parker Born contributing a career-high 15 points and Raquiza adding 12 in a win over Yelm. But the after-effects of the illness were apparent to observers as Parrish and Browne both struggled to play at full strength against Timberline. The team lost 63-60 despite valiant efforts from Will Landram, with 20 points and seven rebounds, and Asher Raquiza, who had 14 points. Landram, who finished the season averaging 15 points a game, was growing nightly into a confident playmaker who opponents had to fear with his attacking style.
Sometimes after a loss in an undefeated season a sharper sense of focus develops. This is what happened to Gig Harbor, which sustained its first blemish after an 11-0 start and now had to win out against league opponents to secure a share of the SSC championship with Timberline.
Blowout wins over Central Kitsap and Peninsula followed, with the latter highlighted by reserve Nic Fortney’s “the Gritty” dance down center court after he nailed a deep 3-pointer at the end of the game. He weighs 265 pounds but looked light as a feather as he skipped across the floor with a bright smile on his face.
At the end of the win over the Seahawks, the smiling crowd didn’t really want to leave the gym. Fan attendance had been growing at such a high rate and the gym became the place to be. They say word travels fast in this town, and it sure did about the Tides this year. Long lines in the commons area soon became the norm as spectators waited to get inside the packed gym.
The increased attendance was noticed by the easy smiling head coach Billy Landram and Athletic Director Bob Werner, who attended every home game and watched the cash register overflow $6 at a time. But way more important than that, was the whole crowd was having fun again and being entertained.
The last regular-season game, at North Thurston, was a record-breaking night as “Downtown” Browne was on fire and laid claim to the title of Gig Harbor’s best shooter ever. He made 11 3-pointers in the game and broke the 31-year-old record of nine, held by Paul Grobins. Browne scored 37 points in the game despite sitting out the fourth quarter.
The sharpshooter who averaged 20.4 ppg and scored a remarkable 531 points on the season would go on to break Grobins’ season record for 3-pointers. The old record was 80 and Browne made 98, shooting a healthy 44% from behind the arc. He also eclipsed the 1,000 point career scoring mark as a junior.
The postseason begins
The regular season was over as Gig Harbor had accumulated an impressive 19-1 record and shared the South Sound Conference title with Timberline, splitting two games during the season. The Tides started the playoffs against the second-ranked and eventual state champion Auburn Trojans.
Gig Harbor was ahead at halftime but struggled with foul trouble. Two players eventually fouled out of the game and Auburn shot a ridiculous 38 free throws for the game as the Trojans prevailed by 12 points.
That led to a home loser-out game against the Lincoln Abes and their boisterous cheering section. The sellout home crowd was nervous, knowing that the Tides had their backs against the wall.
They came out swinging, securing a 92- 75 victory with Browne hitting five threes on his way to 27 points. Landram made 10 of 13 shots for 23 points, Parker Born added 15 and Parrish had 10 points and 10 assists.
Next up were playoff wins against Evergreen of Vancouver and Spanaway Lake. The latter came with a price, as Landram sprained an ankle in a 78-44 victory.
Landram’s ankle did not heal in time for the next game, and the Tides went into a showdown against third ranked O’Dea shorthanded. Nonetheless, Gig Harbor secured a bye to the state quarterfinals with a hard-fought 11-point victory. Raquiza and Browne both had 15 points, with Raquiza connecting on three 3-pointers and Browne hitting 10 for 10 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter. Parrish had 14 and Pickles 12 as Gig Harbor let people know their record was real.
Welcome to Tacoma
The stands were packed with Gig Harbor fans for a quarterfinal contest in the Class 3A state tournament at the Tacoma Dome. The three juniors carried the load in the Tides’ opener, against Seattle power Rainier Beach.
The gutsy Landram returned from injury to score 19 points, but never looked completely healthy and left the contest in the final three minutes with leg cramps before returning late.
“Will played good, he wasn’t 100% but he was close enough that he was still was able to play well in both games,” Coach Landram said.
That may have taken the wind out of the Tides’ sails, as it was a two-point game at his departure point. Luke Browne was smooth from 3-point range, hitting four long range bombs for 18 points while Parrish was competing hard with 11 points and seven assists.
The Tides were down by 12 points but never quit and stormed back on long shots and were able to take a five-point lead into the fourth quarter against the eventual state runner ups. Rainier Beach was able to pound the ball inside down the stretch and earned a 65-60 victory.
The season ended with a consolation game against the Mountlake Terrace Hawks. The Tides got out to a 24- 9 advantage before watching the lead slowly evaporate until the two minute mark when Terrace was able to secure the lead.
The two teams went back and forth with Luke Browne supplying 26 points and Will Landram scoring 17 to pace the Tides. Down by three points with 14 seconds to go, Coach Landrum instructed Browne to come off a curl screen for a corner jumper. He drained a contested, clutch three to tie the score at 73.
The Tides tried a halfcourt trap to create a turnover, but the Hawks fired the ball over the pressure and to the baseline where the defense was thin. Browne stopped the penetration but a quick pass to a wide-open, cutting Hawk for a layup and a 75-73 Mountlake Terrace lead. That would be the final score.
Parrish raced up the court and found an open Raquiza in the right corner for a three to win the game but his shot barely rimmed out at the buzzer as the Hawk fans erupted and the Gig Harbor Tides’ magical season was over.
Bigger things ahead?
The Tides say goodbye to seniors Asher Raquiza, Ryan Pickles and Parker Born, who all have future college plans.
“It was very rewarding to be able to coach these kids,” Coach Landram said. “With our youth program, I’ve been around them for almost a decade, so it is bittersweet to see them move on in life. They have been a huge part of what we have built these last nine years and it’s hard to imagine not having them in the program. They are the cream of the crop.”
Looking forward, the Tides have one of the state’s top juniors in Luke Browne, who averaged 22 points per game in the tournament and made all 21 of his free throws in three state games.
“Luke played great,” Landram said. “You could tell coming into this week that he was mentally built for this stage. Most kids struggle to shoot in the Tacoma Dome. Not Luke, he carried us on offense against Beach until we settled in and came out on fire versus Terrace in huge performances by him on both days.”
Another key player will be Will Landram, who combines length with athleticism and has a huge upside. He has the body type and the look of a player who could still be growing. He averaged 15 points a game this year, shooting over 55 percent. There is no doubt that, like Browne, college scholarships await this uber talent.
The other junior who carried a heavy load of ball handling duties was the spark plug Parrish, the SSC defensive player of the year with 88 steals, just 13 shy of the Gig Harbor record. He averaged eight points and five assists per game and showed throughout the playoffs that he could get to the rim with a quick first step.
At the guard spot, 6-foot-2 inch freshman Cole Browne can handle the ball and has the ability to take defenders off the dribble or hit rainbow jumpers. He hit a huge 23-foot halftime buzzer-beater in the Dome against Mountlake Terrace with defenders close to maintain momentum. Drake Matthies, a 6-foot-2 inch sophomore who joined the varsity team mid- season, showed athleticism and the ability to handle the ball, can penetrate to the cup and has displayed a nice shooting touch from mid- range. Brady Altman will round out the returning guards bringing his hustle and defense as well.
Returning on the frontline will be 6-foot-4 inch junior Britt Born who is a serviceable defender, rugged rebounder and unselfish player who contributes in many ways. He will be joined by 6-foot-4 Ben Stephens with his physical presence. And of course the crowd favorite Nic Fortney will be back with his positive energy and likable style for the Tides next year.
The Tides also will have a 6- foot-8 center in Luke Allison, who joined the team briefly at the end of the season. He is long and lean with a strong body and good timing on shot blocks. He has a good vertical leap, dunking easily, and can collect multiple rebounds. He could have a key role as a rim protector and rebounder. He should score plenty of points with offensive put backs, interior post moves and foul line jumpers. The Tides have plenty of shooters but with hard work this summer Allison could be a difference-maker at the center spot helping the Tides go after the state championship.
Overall, the Tide season was certainly one to remember at 23-4, with a SSC championship and run to the Tacoma Dome. With many accomplished players returning the future of Gig Harbor’s basketball program with Billy Landram at the wheel is as bright as the sun on this early March afternoon.