When it comes to advantages, the Eastmont Wildcats have them in spades heading into their state regional game.
And they’ll need them all against a big and athletic Newport Knights team.
The Wildcats are riding a wave of momentum after surviving a pair of tense loser-out postseason contests to win the district title. They’ll also have a virtual home-court advantage playing Saturday’s 6 p.m. winner-to-state game just across the river from home at Wenatchee High School. And unlike Newport (17-8 overall), Eastmont (19-3) has already seen its opponent up close.
The Wildcats were afforded a rare opportunity Tuesday night, as the entire team was in the stands in Bellevue to watch the Knights defeat Mt. Vernon 66-55 for the right to play Eastmont.
“It’s a big advantage going into Saturday,” said Eastmont senior forward Jeremy Adams. “We got to see their strengths, a little bit of their weaknesses. We know their tendencies on defense, who they like to go to when they’re in a tough spot to score.”
Watching Newport in person also magnified how tough a task it will be for the undersized Wildcats to handle the Knights’ size.
“They’re a very physical, athletic team. There are a few specimen on their team. Their bigs are thick,” Eastmont coach Mike Waters said. “We have to be physical with our off-ball defense. We have to keep them 15 feet away from the basket. If they start scoring two, five, 10 feet from the basket, it will be a long night.”
The Wildcats will put a lot of attention on Newport’s 6-foot-4 duo of forward Issac Dotson (13.3 points per game), a Washington State-bound football player, and guard Miles Fowler (10.6 points per game), a former teammate of Eastmont leading scorer Trea Thomas on the Friends of Hoop summer team. They’ll also have to contend with the team’s top scorer, Will Ferris (14.6 points per game).
Eastmont plans to stick with its strengths to shut down the Knights — a matchup zone in the half-court, and a breakneck pace on offense in an attempt to wear down Newport.
“Against Mt. Vernon, they went probably six (players) deep 90 percent of the game,” Waters said. “Our plan all year has been to push the ball and full-court press. We’re still fit and conditioned and in our prime. We’re going to play 84 feet of defense and push the ball right at them. We want that ball right on top of them — when they do score, that ball’s gotta get back down the floor.”
The Wildcats feel at home in the do-or-die atmosphere of the state regional round, as they already have two wins in loser-out situations from last week.
“We know how to play. The pressure doesn’t really get to us anymore,” Eastmont senior guard David Wright said.
And it’s doubtful the Knights could find a more hostile situation to come into, considering the crowds the Wildcats have been pulling in as of late, which are always led by the vocal Red Zone student section.
“I’ve been pleased with the numbers of the Red Zone,” said Waters. “And I turn around and look back at the stands, the community/parents side has been full the entire season. … Having the community, the Red Zone and the band, what an environment to play in.”
The players have felt the support build up, as well.
“I feel a sense of unity with our school,” Adams said. “I think it started with the football team winning the league championship. The school has banded together. Hopefully it will lead our charge to state, which is the ultimate goal.”