By Josh Brody in Sports
“Have fun and play hard. Believe in the system. Enjoy the moment.” These were the keys Head Coach Alex Kirk preached to his Northwest Athletic Conference championship winning Clark Penguins from day one.
Clark’s championship run was not without its ups and downs, but after several tournament appearances in a row the Penguins were determined to bring home the first place trophy. Clark’s last title was 20 years ago.
Kirk, assisted by coaches Tim Marrion, Sean Sterkel and Rob Harris guided the team of 13 men through a grueling regular season, all while emphasizing suffocating defense and a high-energy offense.
“Clark has an outstanding program this year,” said Lower Columbia College’s 26-year veteran Head Coach Jim Roffler earlier this year.
Though the season brought six losses, that didn’t deter Kirk from the game-plan set at the beginning of the season.
“We had to confront our shortcomings and really address how we could get better from our losses, ” Kirk said.
With scoring guards Bryan Berg, Darrius Mathis and veteran Hayden Hall averaging nearly 32 points, 9.5 rebounds and nearly five steals a game combined, schools were forced to adapt to hustle that often couldn’t be matched.
The Penguin’s depth provided the ability for anyone on the court to ignite. Secondary scoring guard, Kendal Brown, scored 22 points against Centralia College, Jan. 21.
Clark ended the regular season averaging nearly 76 points per game and clinched the number one seed in the West Region with a record of 21-6. They entered the NWAC Tournament, Mar. 7-10, with a five-game winning streak.
To begin the playoffs, Clark broke a 45-year old record for the largest winning margin as they smothered Treasure Valley Community College, 74-30.
In the following two games, Clark prevailed 54-51 against the North Region’s number one seed Bellevue College and then against Green River Community College, 55-41.
During the final game against Edmonds Community College, Clark looked rattled after trailing 40-38 at halftime but came out of the locker room strong in the second. Clark scored 40 points while holding Edmonds to a meager 19 in the second half.
Mathis fought consistent taunting from the Edmonds crowd and put up 18 points in the Penguin’s 78-59 victory. “After a running down the court a few times, I heard their fans trying to distract me,” Mathis said, “But after I scored for the first time, something clicked and I realized what I was playing for.”
Clark had four players in double-digits on the night. Among them was freshman swing guard Rian Bassett who put up 15 points off the bench.
The season’s leading scorer, Berg, said, “It’s not an easy task playing four games in four days. Coach told us that people who haven’t stepped up yet, this was their time to do it. And Rian and Darrius stepped up when it counted.”
Championship teams are known for their great chemistry and Clark was no exception. While playing one-on one after a practice, Berg and former Tigard High School teammate Evan Garrison would call out to each other what their opponent’s next move was.
“When you play with each other for as long as we have, it’s not hard to figure out what his next move is,” Berg said catching his breath.
Next season former Division I player, Glenn Baral, will pair up with Clark’s 6-foot-10-inch freshman center and former high school teammate, Miles Martin.
“I can’t wait for next season,” Martin said.
Martin will be accompanied by Baral, Berg, Bassett, Mathis, guard Jason Smarr and redshirt freshman Miles Springer.
Berg said two rings are better than one and sees his collegiate career as unfinished without back-to-back NWAC championships.
Martin agrees. “To finish the season with anything less than another ring, would be a disappointment.”