EAST WENATCHEE — Eastmont’s stellar senior class led the Wildcats to their first league title since 1994 and the top seed to the Big Nine district playoffs. On Friday night, those same veterans made sure the team lived up to its top billing.
The Wildcats’ leaders helped them shake off a bad third quarter and defeat Moses Lake 60-43 in a do-or-die district tournament semifinal contest, setting up a monumental district title game against rival Wenatchee at 7 p.m. Saturday at Eastmont.
Star guard Trea Thomas led the way with 28 points against Moses Lake, and his fellow senior captains J.J. Jahr (11 points) and Dalin McDonnell (nine points) also had big nights against the Chiefs.
Eastmont took a 12-point advantage into halftime, but Moses Lake outscored the Wildcats 12-8 in the third quarter and whittled the lead down to as little as five early in the fourth quarter.
“They snuck away a little bit and hit a couple of 3s,” Eastmont coach Mike Waters said. “And we just kinda went cold there.”
Thomas ended Moses Lake’s rally, however, by stealing passes on back-to-back Chiefs possessions and finishing on fast breaks to put the Wildcats back ahead 49-40.
“Trea stepped up the defense big time early in that quarter,” Waters said. “That got the lead up to nine, and we just didn’t look back from there.”
Eastmont hit numerous free throws down the stretch and finished the fourth with a 19-10 advantage to take the win.
The charity stripe was a huge factor in the outcome — Eastmont shot 15 for 20 at the line, while Moses Lake was just 1 for 6.
“That’s one category I want to win, and we definitely won that stat by a mile,” said Waters, who credited his team for attacking the Chiefs defense no matter if they were in a zone or man-to-man to get to the line regularly.
Junior forward Devin Schall had a strong effort off the bench, totaling nine points and six rebounds for the Wildcats.
“Devin Schall was a real impact player,” Waters said. “He came in and was just a really good spark for us. He had some crucial, crucial rebounds.”
Mitch Hohman led Moses Lake with 14 points, while Denis Ulyanchuk added 12.
Saturday’s district title game between Eastmont an Wenatchee will be the fourth meeting between the cross-river rivals this season. Eastmont won the first two games — at Town Toyota Center in December, and in overtime at Wenatchee High School in January — but the Panthers own an emotional, last-second 47-46 victory on the Wildcats’ home floor from just two weeks ago.
“They can’t wait,” Waters said of the Wildcats. “It was disappointing, (losing to Wenatchee) in our gym. It hurt for a long time, but now you get that opportunity to make it right.
“It’s going to be a packed house. Not a lot of kids get to play in an environment like tomorrow. It’s an awesome opportunity. … There’s no bigger game.”