In a midseason battle between two of Washington’s best 2A girls basketball teams, Washougal controlled the tempo and beat visiting Port Angeles 65-54 on Saturday, Jan. 25.
Washougal High School’s gymnasium was packed with fans and included several scouts from other top 2A teams, traveling from as far as Olympia to analyze the Panthers (13-2 overall, 7-0 2A Greater St. Helens League) and the Rough Riders (12-4 overall), both of whom are expected to be contenders at the 2A Hardwood Classic in March.
The game was a big test for the Panthers, who lost their season-opening game to W.F. West, a team that Port Angeles beat on Dec. 14.
“It feels good to win against them because it really hurt to lose against W.F. West to open the season,” Washougal senior co-captain McKinnley Stotts said.
“I really think some teams may be underestimating us because we lost a few games early in the season,” Panthers junior guard McKenna Jackson added.
Panthers players said they enjoyed the unique opportunity to play one of the state’s top teams at this point in the season as they near their postseason quest to defend their state title.
“I think this was really good for us because this is tougher competition, similar to what we will encounter at districts and state,” Stotts said. “(Port Angeles is) a ranked team, so this is a good win. We want to play against good teams like this.”
Panthers start slow, but heat up fast
With two minutes left in the first quarter, the Rough Riders held a 10-3 lead as their defensive pressure messed with Washougal’s confidence.
“I think we just had a slow start,” said Panthers junior Skylar Bea, who finished with 13 points, 13 rebounds and seven blocked shots. “We were not really ready for their tempo, but we figured it out.”
By the end of the first quarter, the Panthers tied the game 10-10, then took the lead for good in the second quarter. Sophomore Jaiden Bea poured in 20 points, and Stotts had 12 points.
Defense drives offense
The Panthers are as tall as some of the other top 2A teams in the state, but their pressure defense is known for giving other teams fits.
“We work on pressing a lot and getting steals off of that, which brings up our energy and helps us score,” Jackson said. “If we get steals, we run and push and get layups, and that’s what we want.”
Jackson put defensive pressure on Millie Long, the Rough Riders’ top scorer, holding her to 15 points.
“I knew coming into this game she was a fantastic offensive player and she was really quick and could shoot, just like on the game film,” Jackson said. “I knew I had to come out hard and defend our state title.”
On Jan. 27, Washougal hit Ridgefield with stifling defensive pressure in its 59-14 win. Stotts led the Panthers with 19 points.
Washougal’s blowout victory pushed the team’s winning streak to 12 with just four league games remaining before the postseason.
Panthers honor Kobe Bryant
Washougal’s game against Ridgefield was played one day after NBA legend Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash along with his 13-year-old daughter and seven other people.
Every Panthers player had Bryant’s No. 24 inked on their left shoulder, and the entire Washougal student section wore purple beads in honor of one of the greatest players of all time.