Panthers look to bounce back from series of tough losses

League play begins Thursday

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WHS sophomore Austin Tran (14) has been a bright point in the Panthers' recent string of losses, after starting the season with eight consecutive wins. Against Kennewick on Friday, he scored a team high 9 points, and against Centralia the night before he scored a career high 18 points.

Washougal boys basketball coach Malcom Estes is looking for his team to bounce back after being dealt a few tough losses during the past couple of weeks.

On Friday, the Panthers (8-3) were handed their third consecutive loss as Kennewick used its strength and speed to put on the defensive pressure and a tough offense to earn a solid 87-37 win on Washougal’s home court.

On Thursday, the Panthers were overcome 58 to 51 at Centralia after being ahead for most of the game and tied going into the fourth quarter.

Estes said in part the lopsided loss against Kennewick can be attributed to the Panthers having to deal with some injuries. Aaron Diester is nursing a sore foot, and Karsten Short is not yet at full strength after injuring his knee in Washougal’s win against Camas on Dec. 20. In addition, the team’s leading scorer David Crowley has missed the past few games due to a family commitment.

The longtime coach, however, said he is not making excuses.

“We ran into a very good team, so I don’t want to take anything away from them,” said Estes, who mentioned the dominating performance of Kennewick’s 6 foot 4 senior “scoring machine” Bryce Leavitt, who scored 27 points. “It was a mismatch.”

Despite the final score, he said the players remained committed from beginning to end.

“We never quit,” he said. “We played hard the whole way through. That’s a testament to them.”

A bright spot in both games was the performance of sophomore Austin Tran, who scored a career-high 18 points against Centralia and a team high 9 points against Kennewick.

“He has the ability to do that in any game he plays,” Estes said. “He has come off the bench for us and given us a good spark.”

Against Centralia, other Panthers also put up some good numbers including Isaac Bischoff with 14 points, Michael McElroy with 12, and Mustapha Bah with 8.

Estes said with league play starting up on Thursday against RA Long, the team’s mental and physical toughness will be tested.

“It is going to be a test for us to see how we bounce back,” he said. “They are going to need to do what they have to do to stay focused.”

The coach said that he has confidence that his players can take the experiences of the past two weeks, learn from them, and emerge a stronger team.

“It’s a humbling experience, but [a tough loss] can happen to any team,” he said. “I told them we can let something like this destroy us, or choose to stay strong together. I know these kids are going to come through, because they put team first all of the time.”