EAST WENATCHEE — Eastmont coach Tessa Bromiley was visibly shaking well after her team’s thrilling 39-35 win over Wenatchee on Friday.
Bromiley said coaching the contest, which her team trailed for the bulk of, made her more nervous than any game she could ever remember playing in.
That’s not to say her players didn’t feel the pressure, though.
Nikki Gilbert once again played the role of closer, knocking down back-to-back free throws to give her team the lead — and ultimately the win — with 8.2 seconds left in regulation.
“My legs are shaking, but I was just thinking (of) what I do at practice,” the senior point guard said.
Gilbert looked calm and collected on the court and hit two high-arcing buckets in a raucous gymnasium.
Gilbert, who finished the night with seven points, was called upon to hit a number of free throws last time the Wildcats (9-5 Big Nine) knocked off the Panthers (2-12 Big Nine) on Jan. 12 — she hit 7 of 8 in the fourth quarter of that game to give her team a 53-48 victory.
The four-year varsity player didn’t need to hit that many Friday, but the two she sunk made all the difference.
“The girls you want on the free-throw line at the end of the game are your seniors,” Bromiley said.
Gilbert closed the game out, but her teammates completed a number of big plays late in the game to bring Eastmont back from a game-long deficit, which ballooned to double digits at one point in the third quarter.
Freshman Kyra Buterbaugh drained a 3-pointer, and her older sister Kylie Buterbaugh answered that with a trey of her own to make it a 25-25 game at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
At that point in the contest, Gilbert said she felt her confidence increase, which in all likelihood was a feeling shared by her teammates.
Things got even better for Eastmont once Savannah Jackson came up with a number of big plays in the paint.
Still, Wenatchee wouldn’t go away. Despite losing its lead early in the fourth quarter, it battled back and forth with its cross-river rival. Jackson took in every minute of it.
“I love playing in close games, because it just comes down to the last shot,” she said. “In the end, you just have to relax.”
Jackson described her squad as “a fourth quarter team” after it outscored the Panthers 20-10 in the final quarter of play, but admitted that her team had a tough time staying relaxed during the rally. They were poised down the stretch though, which is what counted.
“We had to come around and be more poised on offense and continue to move the ball and get second- and third-chance points,” Bromiley said.
Despite struggling to score points early on and shooting just 2 for 11 from the charity stripe in the first half, the Wildcats stayed patient and eventually found a way to get past Wenatchee’s defensive pressure.
With the win, Eastmont is tied for second place in the Big Nine with Davis and has an opportunity to finish second, which would guarantee a home game in the first round of districts.
The Panthers’ season, on the other hand, is winding down fast after they found themselves on the wrong end of yet another close contest.
The closes losses are tough to take, but should help the young team going forward.
“It’s going to make us better,” coach Robin Kansky said. “Because we know that we have to finish and we need to keep getting better every game.”