The Washougal Panthers hosted their first district playoff game Saturday, but Brad Wallace and the River Ridge Hawks spoiled the party.
Wallace delivered 25 of his 30 points in the second half to lead the Hawks to a 54-51 victory in front of a packed house at Washougal High School. He also nailed the game-winning 3-pointer with 1.1 seconds left on the clock. All the Panthers had time for was a desperation shot that deflected off the glass as the final buzzer sounded.
“That kid just hit an incredible shot with a hand in his face,” said head coach Malcolm Estes. “We played hard. The breaks just didn’t fall our way in the end.”
Washougal seniors Michael McElroy and Aaron Deister each netted 15 points, and Jaden Jantzer added 10. McElroy swished a buzzer beater from well behind the 3-point line to bring the Panthers within one point going into the fourth quarter. Jantzer and McElroy both hit huge threes in the fourth quarter, but Washougal couldn’t hold on to either one of those leads.
“Obviously, we wanted to win this game. There’s nothing we can do about what happened. We just have to come back this week and keep fighting,” McElroy said. “Now it’s win or go home. Last year when it was win or go home, we won two games and almost made it to state. It’s not over yet.”
Washougal (14-7) faces Tumwater (6-14) Wednesday at W.F. West High School, in Chehalis. Tip off is at 7 p.m. The Panthers have to win three games in a row to qualify for the state tournament. One more loss and their season is over.
“We were in this same position last year, and we know what we have to do,” Deister said. “Just keep winning, one game at a time.”
The Panther Pit Crew didn’t wait for Washougal to score 10 points before going crazy. They roared at the top of their lungs from the first basket onward.
“Our fans were louder tonight than they were for the Hockinson game,” Deister said. “There were times when I couldn’t even hear myself think.”
The Washougal boys will miss playing at home, where they went 10-2 this season. Now it’s time for them to take the show on the road.
“This team has really grown over the years, bonded and become a family,” McElroy said. “And the support from our community has been really great. I’m going to miss this a lot.”