A crushing defeat, a heartbreaking loss and a thrilling last second victory — the Washougal boys basketball team and Panther fans experienced all that and more during three home games in just one week.
It all started with a challenging game against the Columbia River Chieftains, a team that’s currently ranked fourth in the state of Washington, on Jan. 15.
“We’ve seen quite a few teams around the state while playing in holiday tournaments this season and they (Columbia River) are among the top that I’ve seen,” Washougal head boys basketball coach A.J. Labree said.
The Chieftains’ talented lineup displayed tough defense and held Washougal at 11 points during the first half.
Then, Columbia River’s shooters lit it up in the second half, burying 12 of 19 shots from 3-point range and beating the Panthers 60-39 in front of Washougal’s supportive home crowd.
Panther guard Carter Murray, who scored 30 points in a previous game against Hockinson, was held to just seven points against the Chieftains.
“They were hawking me and wouldn’t let me get the ball in the first half,” Murray said of the Columbia River players. “Everywhere I went, they just stayed on me.”
Washougal did start to disrupt the Chieftains hot shooting in the fourth quarter, but the lead proved too much to overcome.
“Once we started the full court press, we slowed them down. But when you’re down by 30, you are really just trying to make it not such a bad game,” Panther guard Brevan Bea said.
In the final minutes of the game, the Washougal bench players entered the court and hit several 3-pointers as the starters and the home crowd rose to their feet to cheer them on.
“The kids all know we are fighting for a playoff spot, and I liked how they stayed in the game until the very end,” Labree said. “Their body language was great, and that’s tough to do when you’re being put down pretty big.”
Two nail-biters, two very different outcomes
Two nights later, on Jan. 17, the Panthers responded to the Columbia River blowout loss with a scrappy performance against the Monarchs from Mark Morris High School.
Down by 10 points at halftime, the Panthers came out strong in the third quarter with some hot shooting by Carter Murray — who finished with a team-high 18 points.
With just under two minutes to play in the fourth quarter, the Panthers tied the game at 51-51 after Dalton Payne made two clutch free throws.
However, the game slipped away from the Panthers in the final minute as Mark Morris eked out a 58-53 league win.
The Panthers were hungry for a win after the heartbreaking Mark Morris loss, but it would not come easy.
In fact, victory only came in the final five seconds.
That’s how many seconds were left on the clock when Murray drove a crowded key for a layup at a game against R.A. Long on Jan. 19. The Panthers won that game 37-35.
Murray’s thrilling game-winning play followed an intense battle between the Washougal guard and the Lumberjacks’ 6’5″ senior Jacob Thompson, who fouled out in the final seconds after he was called with a charging foul.
“It was getting aggressive, and I love aggressive games,” Murray said. “I just stepped in front of him and tried to draw the foul for my team, and it ended up working out.”
Panther forward Dalton Payne said the game plan focused on defense and slowing down Thompson.
“We knew they had that big guy, so we kept fronting him and helping out as a team,” Payne said.
The Panthers are now 3-5 in league play. Despite Columbia River and Mark Morris holding commanding leads in the league standings, Washougal remains in close battle for the league’s third playoff spot.