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Youthful Pirates show poise, make Pipers pay

Whitworth Pirates (S-R)
Whitworth Pirates (S-R)

Call it what you will, losing your temper, blowing your cool or just coming unglued, it proved costly for the Hamline Pipers of St. Paul, Minn.

Three technical fouls in the final three minutes of the game, including back-to-back calls and the ejection of Hamline coach Nelson Whitmore with under a minute to go, allowed 11th-ranked Whitworth to close out 2012 with a 77-67 nonconference men’s basketball win Monday afternoon at the Fieldhouse.

It was the 10th straight victory for Whitworth after a season-opening loss to No. 4 St. Thomas.

Seconds after cutting the Pirates’ lead to six, 67-61, with 3:01 remaining, Hamline forward Marshall Jestings shoved Whitworth’s Mack Larkin during a timeout in front of the Pipers’ bench and two of the three game officials. Dustin McConnell converted one of two free throws to push the Whitworth lead to 68-61.

After cutting the Whitworth lead to five points at 70-65 with a minute left, Whitmore was whistled for his first technical and reacted by jumping up and loudly slapping the scorer’s table, earning a second and an automatic ejection. McConnell put the game out of reach by converting three of four free throws.

Meanwhile, the Pirates team that coach Matt Logie described as young at the beginning of the season, played with the poise of a veteran club throughout.

“One of the last things I wrote on the board before we came out for the tip-off was ‘Play with poise,’ because we knew they were going to come out and try to pressure and trap us,” Logie said. “We knew we were going to have to handle those things with poise if we were going to be successful.”

With two starters who had little and no playing experience coming in, sophomore post Taylor Farnsworth and true freshman guard George Valle, as well as a young and deep bench, that kind of poise has been a crucial addition.

“I think that’s a credit to our veteran leaders – Wade Gebbers and Mack Larkin and Zach Payne …, our three captains,” Logie said. “They’ve helped pull all the pieces together.”

All five Whitworth starters scored in double figures, led by Farnsworth, who had game highs in points (16) and rebounds (7). McConnell, who was 10-of-12 from the line, finished with 15 points. Valle had 14, with Larkin and Gebbers adding 11 and 10 points, respectively.

For Farnsworth, the game was his first opportunity to show off a newly found confidence that first showed itself on a three-game California road trip before Christmas, beginning with a 67-62 win over Chapman in which he scored a game-high 14 points.

“The week before we went on the road I had really been struggling, especially on offense,” the 6-foot-8 Mead graduate said. “I couldn’t get anything to drop for me. We got on the road and a few shots started to fall and I started to get a little confidence in my shot. My teammates started to show more confidence in me and started passing me the ball more.”

Farnsworth’s team-high seven rebounds included five offensive.

“I’m concentrating on rebounds because that can give me a few more chances to score and give me some second-chance shots,” he said. “Having Zach Payne to work against in practice has been big. I didn’t get to know him very well last year. This year we’ve become very good friends and we push each other hard in practice every day. It really helps to have a friend like that who wants to make you a better player.”

The Pirates return to Northwest Conference play this weekend, playing Friday in Cottage Grove, Oregon against Pacific and Saturday in Portland against Lewis and Clark.

As the calendar turns now to 2013 arrives, Logie said he’s pleased with the development his squad has shown, but also quick to point out that knows the Pirates must keep climbing the growth curve.

“I think if any of us went back to the beginning of the season and you told us that we’d be 10-1 going into the New Year, we’d all be happy,” he said.