North Thurston had Washougal’s number this time around, but the Panthers became the talk of the district tournament.
Ben Broker scored 30 points to carry the Rams to a 62-56 victory over Washougal Feb. 21, at W.F. West High School in Chehalis.
Washougal (14-10) finished the season just one win shy of the Sweet 16. The Panthers still brought home a fourth-place trophy from districts.
“To win a trophy is a huge accomplishment for these young men. I have nothing but good things to say about them,” said head coach Malcolm Estes. “We played extremely hard for four games, and we almost got those guys. We almost got there.”
The Panthers matched the Rams basket-for-basket in the first quarter. Aaron Deister delivered 10 of his 16 points in those first eight minutes, and Michael McElroy nailed a 3-pointer to counter the one from North Thurston. Both teams were nodded up at 15.
Isaac Bischoff opened the second quarter with a lay up off the in-bounds pass to give the Panthers their only lead of the game. Jaden Jantzer followed with a long 2-pointer to increase the advantage to four, but the Rams charged back out in front 21-19 after scoring six unanswered points.
North Thurston increased its lead to seven points. Washougal had one more opportunity to cut the lead down before halftime, but the ball slipped out of McElroy’s hand. David Crowley saved the ball from going out of bounds with one hand and shot it from behind the 3-point line with the other. The ball took a favorable bounce off the rim and dropped through the net.
“I didn’t even know how much time was left on the clock, I just knew I needed to make it,” Crowley said.
Crowley and McElroy made a couple more big threes in the third quarter, but the Panthers were never able to get over the hump. Crowley tied the score at 45 early in the fourth quarter, but the Rams kept hitting 3-pointers and foul shots.
McElroy made one more three to get Washougal within three points of North Thurston with 46.7 seconds left in the game, but the Panthers could not get any closer. Crowley led the team with 18 points, and McElroy added 10.
“Even though we lost, we can still learn from this experience and come back even stronger next year,” Crowley said. “The season was incredible. This is the best team I’ve had the pleasure of being a part of.”