WENATCHEE — After Friday’s Big Nine district tournament semifinal contest ended, a large mob of Wenatchee students descended down from the stands onto the court to celebrate with the Panthers players. A couple of players, in turn, located Brock Kuntz, hoisted the senior guard onto their shoulders and carried him into the throng. A large smile spread across Kuntz’s face as he thrust a balled fist skyward.
The scene at Wenatchee High School certainly was dramatic after Wenatchee found a way to hold on and beat Davis 70-68 in an overtime classic that nobody connected with the Panthers program will soon forget.
With the Panthers down by one point late in overtime, Alex Hopkins grabbed an offensive rebound and swung the ball out to Kuntz, who drained a 3-pointer with 10 seconds left to give Wenatchee a two-point lead. The Pirates had time for one last look, but turned the ball over with about two seconds remaining, and Dillon Sugg, who tallied a game-high 26 points, threw the ball into the air as time expired to begin the Panthers’ raucous celebration.
“Alex got a key offensive rebound, and luckily I was open,” said Kuntz, who finished with eight points. “I saw the opening and took the shot. You don’t want to do anything too different in that situation; you want to keep the same stroke.”
The Panthers, who finished in second place in the Big Nine, will play league champion Eastmont on Saturday. The winner will earn a berth into the 4A state tournament, and the loser will see its season come to an end.
Of course, the district title contest will carry a special meaning for both squads. Wenatchee defeated the Wildcats in the squads’ third match-up of the regular season after losing the first two games to its rival.
“It’s always going to mean more with a rivalry game,” Kuntz said. “We’ve been playing with (Wildcats players) since we were in the third grade. It’s been a crazy rivalry. It’s going to a be a physical game, and the fact that we’re playing (Eastmont) will get us pumped up and energized to go out and play for the district title.”
For awhile on Friday, it appeared as though the Panthers wouldn’t get that chance. After taking a 24-15 first-quarter lead, they were outplayed the defending 4A state champions in the middle two quarters; the Pirates’ increased defensive intensity on the perimeter led to turnovers and easy offense on the other end on a consistent basis. Davis’ lead grew to as much as 11 in the third quarter.
The Panthers outscored Davis 14-7 in the fourth quarter to force overtime, however.
“They had their big run, and we weathered the storm,” said Wenatchee coach Ron Stone. “Down the stretch in the fourth quarter we limited our turnovers and hit some big shots. And how about Brock Kuntz? He’s awesome. He deserved to hit the big shots that he did tonight. He’s so poised.”
Davis, which received 25 points from Max Jones and 17 from Nikhil Lizotte, showed that it’s most likely going to continue to be a factor in the Big Nine in the coming years. The Pirates won the 4A title last season with a senior-dominated squad; as such, Davis’ core group of players this year included two freshmen and two sophomores. That’s part of the reason why Pirates coach Eli Juarez said he wasn’t disappointed after Friday’s loss.
“Maybe we’re a little disheartened, but we’re (focusing on the) positives,” Juarez said. “We had a lot of new faces this year, but my feeling for this team and feeling for last year’s team was the same — both teams had a lot of heart and worked hard and were full of great kids.”