The Washougal High School boys basketball team picked up where it left off last winter.
Back on Feb. 18, the Panthers rallied from 13 points down in the fourth quarter to defeat W.F. West by one point in the consolation semifinal round of the district tournament.
On Nov. 26, they proved that wasn’t a fluke. Michael McElroy netted 26 points, Austin Tran added 12, and Aaron Deister and Jaden Jantzer each chipped in 11 to lead Washougal to a 67-60 victory.
“For just the first game of the season, I thought we finished strong,” Deister said. “Our experience really paid off.”
The Panthers gained the lead late in the fourth quarter on a pressure packed jumper by Tran. Deister and McElroy came down with the clutch rebounds and made a dozen foul shots. Jantzer nailed two big 3-pointers, back-to-back.
“It felt like they were going to go in. It’s my job to hit those threes,” Jantzer said.
Washougal got off to a rocking start in the first quarter when McElroy hit a 3-pointer from the right wing off an assist by Jantzer. The Panthers got the ball back on defense, and McElroy returned the favor by setting up Jantzer with another 3-pointer.
“We have been playing together for four years, and we have good chemistry,” Jantzer said. “This whole team does.”
McElroy said the Panther Pit Crew motivated him with each step. Several times he grabbed a rebound, took the ball down the court and put it in the basket before the defense could adjust. All the Bearcats could do was foul him, and McElroy made them pay by sinking those extra foul shots for 3-point plays.
“Every single shot we hit, they just got louder and louder,” McElroy said of the Washougal fans. “It really fired me up.”
The Panthers turned a 26-point lead through three quarters into a 77-41 victory at Tenino Wednesday. On top of defending all-league guard Devante Harris, Tran led Washougal with 15 points. McElroy added 13 points and five assists, and Deister delivered 12 points and seven rebounds. Sean Guthrie netted 11 points, Nate Adams grabbed seven rebounds and Jantzer served six assists.
Head coach Malcolm Estes is thrilled with the growth of McElroy, Deister, Jantzer and Tran. He also believes that Adams, Guthrie, Regan Townsend and Yorro Bah have the tools to be difference makers down the stretch in games.
“The seniors have set some high goals, and will do whatever it takes to reach them,” Estes said. “I just want to see effort, enthusiasm and execution. If they do that, they will get the results they want.”
The Panthers want a piece of longtime league powerhouses Hockinson and Mark Morris. In the meantime, they will continue to be tested by this tough non-league schedule. After four games in the first week, Washougal faces Terry Foxx, Evergreen, Centralia, Prairie and has two games against Camas.
“These guys want to send a message that Washougal is still here,” Estes said. “These guys just want to play all the time. If the gym is open, they’re in here. That’s how it’s been for the last four years.”