Panthers make a strong first impression

Michael McElroy doesn't miss from the foul line. The Washougal High School senior scored 26 points to help the Panthers beat W.F. West 67-60 Monday. Buy this photo

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 Monday, they proved that wasn’t a fluke. Michael McElroy netted 26 points, Austin Tran added 12, and Aaron Deister and Jaden Janzter each chipped in 11 to lead Washougal to a 67-60 victory.

“For just our first game of the season, I thought we finished strong,” Deister said. “Our experience really paid off tonight.”

The Panthers grabbed the lead late in the fourth quarter on a pressure switched jumper by Tran. Deister and McElroy came down with the clutch boards and made a dozen foul shots. Janzter nailed two big 3-pointers, back-to-back.

“I felt like they were going to go in. That’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 hitting Janzter up top for another 3-pointer.

“We’ve been playing together for four years, and we have good chemistry,” Jantzer said. “This whole team does.”

The Panthers built a seven-point lead, but the Bearcats cut it down to two before the end of the first quarter. Tran finished off a series of passes between Regan Townsend, Deister, Jantzer and McElroy. McElroy grabbed a rebound, went coast-to-coast, curled the ball into the basket, drew a foul and made the shot from the line for a 3-point play. Washougal led by as many as eight points in the second quarter, but W.F. West got back within two before halftime.

The Panthers opened the third quarter on two 3-point plays for McElroy, and a couple of discus shots by Deister. Janzter also netted two points off an in-bounds pass to give Washougal a nine-point cushion.

Once again, the Bearcats battled back. They tied the score at 48 on a buzzer beater off the glass. Washougal was called for a technical foul, and W.F. West made the two shots at the line to take a 50-48 lead heading into the last quarter.

McElroy and Deister tied the game up, and then McElroy made two foul shots to put the Panthers up 54-52. The Bearcats scored four straight for a 56-54 edge, and McElroy added another foul shot to get Washougal back within one.

Tran got his jump shot to fall into the net to give Washougal a 58-57 lead. W.F. West went back up by one, and then Tran set up Janzter for an open look and a 3-pointer. Washougal got the ball right back, and Janzter hit another three to build a 63-58 lead.

The Bearcats got back within three, before McElroy made four foul shots and Deister added one to bring the game to a close.

Head coach Malcolm Estes commended McElroy, Tran, Deister and Janzter for their effort. Estes said Townsend made a huge difference in his first varsity start.

“He has come so far,” Estes said. “He gets so much more out of his body because he hustles, plays smart and he is not afraid to bang.”

It was just the first game of the season, but Washougal saw this game on the schedule as an opportunity to make a statement.

“I just want to see effort, enthusiasm and execution,” Estes said. “If they do that, we’ll continue to get the results we saw tonight.”

And the Washougal community was with their Panthers every step of the way.

“Every single shot we hit, they just louder and louder,” McElroy said. “It really fired us up.”