EAST WENATCHEE — If the Wenatchee Panthers were finally going to knock off the Big Nine-leading Eastmont Wildcats this season, it makes sense that it would happen in a nail-biting thriller. And it makes even more sense that Dillon Sugg would be right in the middle of it.
That’s exactly how it went down Friday night, as team leader Sugg hit a short baseline jumper with four seconds left to lift Wenatchee to an emotional 47-46 win on Eastmont’s home court.
Sugg’s game-winning bucket capped off an 18-point performance that helped the Panthers (9-4 Big Nine) beat the Wildcats (11-2) for the first time in three games this season. And they did it in Eastmont’s gym, easily the most hostile environment they’ve entered.
“Coach (Ron Stone) called that play, just trying to get me isolation in the post,” said Sugg, a junior wing, of his final score. “Nathan (Allison) gave me a great pass, I just caught it and turned, and it went in. It was the greatest feeling.”
“We set up the isolation play to Dillon, and we got it,” Stone added. “When you got a finisher like him, it helps.”
After a couple of timeouts, Eastmont had one last desperation shot at the win, but Trea Thomas’ 35-footer clanged just off the back of the rim. The Panthers then erupted into a short celebration on the court after pulling off an improbable comeback from an initial 13-point hole in the first quarter.
“I just told them and the coaching staff that I was proud of them (after the game),” Wenatchee coach Ron Stone said. “We just kept battling back, kept our composure. … Just the energy (changed after halftime). We matched their physicality, we got some low-post stuff and were able to finish, and luckily they didn’t bury us (in the first half).”
Eastmont opened the game on a shooting tear, canning their first three buckets from beyond the arc and finishing the first half with five treys. But that was hardly the case in the second half, as Wenatchee held the Wildcats to 4 for 25 shooting (16 percent) from the field.
“The defense is only going to get you so far. The offense has to produce,” Eastmont coach Mike Waters said. “It’s not a secret that if you shoot 27 percent for the game, even with the defense we have, it might keep you in a game, but not against a cross-town rival.”
Wenatchee began to show life in the third quarter, and Sugg ended the frame with six straight points to close the gap to 37-34 and put momentum firmly on the Panthers’ side.
In the fourth quarter, Wenatchee had big shots from two players that scored just once each — Julian Garcia opened the period with a fast-break layup, and Conner Faulkner canned a 3 that made it a one-point game with about 4:30 left.
Though Wenatchee trailed nearly the whole game, Stone said a couple of bench players kept the Panthers in the mix.
“Chase Resch was such a spark at guard, even though he only played one quarter … and Kevin Clive doesn’t play a lot of minutes, but he played huge in the first quarter and probably kept us in it,” Stone said.
Sugg also praised Clive, a 6-foot-4 senior.
“Kevin Clive gave us such good minutes in the first half. He was a major contributor that kept us in the game,” he said.
Allison (12 points), a 6-foot-5 senior post, was another key to the Panthers’ win.
“I was disappointed with (Allison) and sat him early, but the great thing is he didn’t drop his chin,” Stone said.
“He had a tremendous game,” Sugg added. “He worked so hard for everything tonight.”
Wildcats star Thomas, who took over the top spot on the career scoring leaderboard at Eastmont last weekend, led his team with 19 points and shot 7 for 7 on free throws, including both ends of a 1-and-1 amidst a deafening roar that put Eastmont ahead 46-45 with 16.4 second left.
“We just do our best to contain Trea,” said Stone, who employed a box-and-1 defense that held down Thomas for a spell in the second quarter. “When he hit that 1-and-1, I thought that might be the dagger.”
Junior post Nolan Wirth added eight points for the Wildcats.
Stone said there wasn’t much difference to the way the Panthers played Friday compared to their two previous losses to Eastmont.
“The last time we played them at Wenatchee, it wasn’t what Eastmont did, it was we didn’t do,” he said. “We just played with more energy, limited our turnovers late, executed our offense, and hit more shots tonight.”
Friday’s outcome spices up the Big Nine’s standings with just two games to go for each team. Eastmont has a slim one-game lead over Davis (10-3), and will need to beat Sunnyside Saturday and Davis next Friday to clinch the outright league title. Meanwhile, Wenatchee trails Davis by just a game for second place, and can sneak into that spot (and grab a home playoff game) if the Pirates lose to both Eastmont and Wenatchee next weekend.