Those who were inside the Panther jungle gym Friday night will never forget the moment Washougal flipped the switch on Camas.
Both boys basketball teams scored eight points in eerie silence. Once the Panthers got to 10, their fans let the Papermakers have it by screaming at the top of their lungs in unison. The sound waves rippled through both towns, and the noise stayed at an ear-piercing volume for hours.
“I had never seen so many people in this gym in all the games I have played here,” said Washougal senior guard Michael McElroy.
“I don’t think there ever was a question,” added senior forward Aaron Deister. “The crowd brought the energy to us. The fans were quiet at the beginning. We were just waiting for them to erupt. I’ll never forget the moment when they did.”
Washougal defeated Camas 59-48. Austin Tran led the balanced attck for the Panthers with 15 points.
“I was just feeling it in that game,” he said. “Every shot was going in.”
Deister added 12 points and grabbed nine rebounds. McElroy netted nine points, Sean Guthrie scored eight and Jaden Jantzer had six. Washougal turned a one-point lead at halftime into a 36-27 advantage heading into the fourth quarter.
Camas scored just six points in the third quarter, and converted only six of its 19 attempts from the foul line in the game. Trevor Jasinsky delivered 15 points, Trent Johnson had 11, Jordan Lenard added nine, Tyler Hallead scored six and Nick Lopes netted five.
The next day, Washougal went on the road and defeated North Salem 63-48. The Panthers outscored the opposition 21-6 at the foul line. Nate Adams led with 14 points, McElroy added 13, Deister had 12 and Guthrie netted 11. Adams, Deister and Jantzer each grabbed six rebounds.
A 20-9 scoring drive in the third quarter propelled the Panthers to a 74-64 victory against Centralia Dec. 11, at Washougal. Adams delivered six of his 10 points in that third quarter, and Janzter nailed some big 3-pointer’s to swing the momentum in Washougal’s favor. McElroy racked up 19 points in the game, Tran had 14 and Deister added 13.
Camas failed to get over the hump against Washougal, Mark Morris and Hockinson last week. The Papermakers are on the road playing Richland tonight.
Washougal head coach Malcolm Estes said the Panthers (7-2) played three brilliant third quarters last week. They made it difficult for North Salem, Camas, Centralia, Terry Fox, Hudson’s Bay, Tenino and W.F. West to score baskets in the second half, but failed to capitalize on trips to the foul line in losses to Battle Ground and Evergreen.
“We get to the foul line a lot. That’s just our style of play,” Estes said. “On the nights we can step up and make those foul shots, we are tough to beat. Visualize yourself making the free throw. You have to shoot with confidence.”
The Panthers hope this tougher non-league schedule pays off when the league games begin.
“Just play your heart out there,” Tran said. “If you make a mistake, keep your head up. Think ‘next play’ every time you step on the court.”
Washougal plays at Prairie tonight, hosts Tenino Wednesday and goes to Camas on Thursday, Dec. 27. The Panthers host Ridgefield in their league opener on Thursday, Jan. 3.
“Every single person on this team wants to win a league title and make it to the state tournament,” McElroy said. “As long as we take it practice by practice, game by game and give our best effort every single minute, hopefully we’ll reach our goal.”
The Panthers are having a lot of fun right now, but Deister hopes their best days are still to come.
“I think we’re having more fun as a team this year than we did in the last four. We’re also playing better than we did last year, and that’s good because we went pretty far,” he said. “We’re just playing at a whole different level this year.”