Wildcat boys take bite out of Bulldogs

Oak Harbor guard Austin Fulgham passes the ball on the break  against  Mount Vernon last Tuesday. Wildcats forward Chris Raimundi received Fulgham’s pass and converted a successful three-point play to put the Wildcats up 52-46 late in their victory over the Bulldogs. - Matt Moss
Oak Harbor guard Austin Fulgham passes the ball on the break against Mount Vernon last Tuesday. Wildcats forward Chris Raimundi received Fulgham’s pass and converted a successful three-point play to put the Wildcats up 52-46 late in their victory over the Bulldogs.
— image credit: Matt Moss

Oak Harbor junior guard Austin Fulgham believes in anything to gain an advantage on the basketball court.

“I’m really superstitious,” he said after the Wildcats’ surprising 60-59 triumph over perennial powerhouse Mount Vernon on Tuesday night. “I’ll wear the same underwear all season if that means we’ll win.”

Well, he had better get the laundry done before the Wildcats’ next game because it seems to be working.

Less than a week after defeating Lake Stevens due in part to making key free throws, the Oak Harbor boys picked up their second league victory in a row when Mount Vernon’s star player missed a key free throw.

Last week junior Jon Jansen sank two free throws with no time on the clock to tie the Wildcats’ game against the Vikings at 54-54 in which they would eventually win 63-61 after two overtime periods.

Oak Harbor won on Tuesday after the Bulldogs’ Kyle Kendrick missed the last of three foul shots with 3.2 seconds to go in the contest

It was the Cats’ second consecutive WesCo 4A North Division win and their third straight after beginning the season 0-8.

“After going on the losing streak, we decided to turn it around,” said Fulgham after the game. “We’re like a whole new team.”

Fresh from the win over Lake Stevens, the Wildcats opened the game against Mount Vernon focussed and confident. They were not scared of the Bulldogs, one of the local powers in boys basketball.

“They weren’t the same Mount Vernon,” said head coach Bryan Schulle. “They’re always going to be good and tough, but they’ve had a lot of changes this year.”

After Kendrick began the game by hitting a three, Oak Harbor’s sophomore guard Jeremy Brown responded with two quick threes and the Cats jumped to an early lead. Jansen banked in a shot down low and was fouled. He hit the free throw and the score was 11-7 in favor of the Wildcats.

Kendrick, the Bulldogs’ star quarterback on the gridiron, showed that he had touch on the basketball court as well. He hit a three with a man in his face at the top of the circle and then hit another from NBA range near the end of the quarter that tied the score at 13-13.

The Wildcats tightened up defense on Kendrick after that, employing a 2-3 zone that the Bulldogs were hesitant to challenge in the paint. Schulle wanted his team to focus on stopping Kendrick and forward Stanley Johnson.

“They really didn’t want to go inside,” he said. “We were keying on their big two (Kendrick and Johnson) and wanted the other three kids to try and beat us.”

The Wildcats jumped out on the Bulldogs early in the second quarter. Fulgham dropped in a three-pointer to make it 16-13. After a Bulldog bucket, Jansen sank a putback and Grant Bull got his first hoop of the night on a baseline drive to put the Cats up 20-16.

After another Fulgham three-pointer put Oak Harbor up by five, Mount Vernon rallied at the end of the half narrowing the deficit to two. Bull barely missed a three-pointer at the buzzer making the score 26-24.

The Bulldogs showed signs of life early in the second half. Kendrick nailed his fourth trey of the night as Mount Vernon sprang to a 31-26 advantage.

The Cats came right back. Jansen made a three-point play, followed by two Bull foul shots to tie the score at 31-31. On the next possession, Jansen dropped in another bucket for two of his team-high 17 points as Oak Harbor regained the lead. Schulle praised his big man after the game.

“Jon has rolled off three big games in a row for us,” he said. “Something clicked for him in the Sedro-Woolley game.”

The Wildcats continued to maintain a steady lead, but could never get comfortable against the Bulldogs, who kept on their heels. Near the end of the third quarter, Jansen grabbed another offensive rebound, made the shot and was hacked putting Mt. Vernon’s Johnson on the bench with his fourth foul. Jansen hit the free throw and the Cats had a 41-35 lead.

Mount Vernon rallied to tie the game early in the fourth, but Brown drilled another three-pointer followed by Joseph Cavitt’s turnaround jumper.

After a missed Bulldog three-point shot, Fulgham started one of the few fast breaks on the night. He fed Chris Raimundi who made a layup and was fouled. With the successful free throw the Cats went up 52-46 with close to two minutes remaining.

After that the Bulldogs began to press and foul, hoping to extend the game. Impervious to the pressure was Brown who was 4-of-4 from the line down the stretch.

“Jeremy was a cool customer making those free throws at the end,” said Schulle. “He’s only a sophomore and he just keeps growing every game.”

The Bulldogs’ strategy began to work as the Wildcats missed several free throws down the stretch. After Lucas Scott nailed a three for Mount Vernon to make the score 59-57, Fulgham was fouled with 13.2 seconds remaining. He made one, and the Bulldogs had a chance.

With no timeouts remaining Mount Vernon drove down the court and hoisted an off-target three. Kendrick grabbed the rebound, went back past the three-point line and threw up a shot as he leaned into a scramble of bodies. The shot didn’t drop but Fulgham was whistled for a foul with 3.2 seconds remaining. The 5-foot-10 junior along with the majority of the Oak Harbor gym was amazed that a foul was called.

“That was the toughest call I’ve ever been involved with,” he said. “I was speechless.”

Kendrick went to the line for three shots. He made the first two, but the last one rimmed out and Oak Harbor ran out the clock for a gratifying victory.

“I was just hoping he would miss and we could get the rebound and hold onto the ball for the three seconds,” said Fulgham. “It was the most meaningful game that I have ever been in.”

Schulle was pleased that his team picked up the victory but deflected praise to his team.

“I give total credit to the kids,” he said. “They’ve been busting their tails at practice. We’ve simplified some things and they have been executing. I’m thrilled for them.”

The Wildcats faced their biggest challenge of the season last night when they traveled to Stanwood to take on the undefeated Spartans.

“Stanwood’s tough, scary tough, but we have nothing to lose,” said Schulle. “It’s a great test against a top 5 team and we’ll get to see where we are going.”

Fulgham echoed his coach’s words.

“We’ve got nothing to lose (against Stanwood),” he said. “We’re dangerous. We want to compete with them.”

Oak Harbor 60, Mount Vernon 59

At Oak Harbor H.S.

Mount Vernon – 13 11 13 22 – 59

Oak Harbor – 13 13 15 19 – 60

Mount Vernon: Johnson 12, Cook 4, Storer 2, Rylaarsdam 17, Scotts 6, Kendrick 18. Oak Harbor: Fulgham 11, Jansen 17, Bull 12, Raimundi 3, Brown 12, Cavitt 5. 3-point goals-Johnson 1, Kendrick 4, Scotts 2, Fulgham 2, Bull 1, Brown 3. JV: Mount Vernon def. Oak Harbor. Records: Mount Vernon 2-4 in league, 4-6 overall. Oak Harbor 2-5, 3-8.

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