Opportunity knocks for Washougal

Panther boys basketball team faces Hockinson tonight for the final slot into the state tournament

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Once again, the Washougal High School boys basketball team faces the consolation finals crossroad.

A win tonight against their nemesis Hockinson sends the Panthers to the state tournament, but a loss ends the season. For the eight Washougal seniors who endured heartbreak after losing in a similar situation to North Thurston last season, it’s now or never. The game starts at 7 p.m., at Evergreen High School, 14300 N.E. 18th St., in Vancouver.

“Twenty miles away at Evergreen, the atmosphere is going to be great,” said senior guard Michael McElroy. “It’s going to be a battle to see who has the loudest fans and who is the better team.”

“We want to finish what we started last year,” added senior forward Aaron Deister.

After sinking Washougal on a 3-pointer just before the final buzzer, River Ridge defeated W.F. West and Mark Morris for the district championship. Washougal hit the road and beat Tumwater 59-52 Wednesday. McElroy completed a triple-double with 14 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. Deister scored 13 points and grabbed eight rebounds. Jaden Jantzer provided seven points, four rebounds and four assists.

“It was win or go home,” McElroy said. “None of us wanted to see the season end that way.”

Washougal rallied from 10 points down in the second quarter to defeat Capital 74-67 Saturday, at Mark Morris High School, in Longview. Deister and Nate Adams ignited the comeback effort in the paint. Adams racked up 18 points and snagged five rebounds, and Deister added 16 points and nine rebounds.

“The shots were falling and that gave us a lot of confidence,” Deister said. “I don’t think we would have won that night without the experience of being in that situation last year.”

McElroy kept the ball moving with 10 points, six assists and four rebounds. Junior guard Austin Tran fought illness and fatigue to score 14 points.

“I just played as hard as I could for the seniors. I didn’t want it to be their last game,” Tran said. “These guys play extremely hard on the court and they never give up. That’s what I’ve learned from them.”

Seniors Sean Guthrie and Jantzer gave the Panthers a double dose of delirium. Guthrie fired a long shot that traveled three quarters up the length of the floor and landed in the net as the halftime buzzer sounded. Jantzer also beat the clock with a 3-pointer at the end of the third quarter.

“These kids put it up there, and they believe,” said head coach Malcolm Estes. “We’re playing our best basketball of the season right now, and I hope that carries on in this next game.”

Washougal and Hockinson have a win against each other on their home floor. Tonight’s game at a neutral site will be the equalizer.

“It’s going to come down to which team gets to the rebounds and loose balls, knocks down the free throws, takes care of the ball and doesn’t turn it over. All the things it takes to win a basketball game,” Estes said. “Am I nervous? Of course. Any coach in this situation would be. Whether it goes one way or the other, it’s still going to be a great season. These kids have done so many great things for this community.”

A win would be so much sweeter for these Panthers, especially after the long and winding road they have traveled together.

“Me, Michael and Aaron have been on the same basketball team since first grade,” Adams said. “To get to state would be unbelievable. You couldn’t ask for anything more.”