WENATCHEE — The Eastmont Wildcats, and anybody following them, ran the gamut of emotions Saturday night.
After opening the game with a vastly different-looking starting lineup, the Wildcats climbed back from an initial 10-point hole, pushing the Newport Knights as far as they could go.
The Knights escaped with a 48-41 win in the Class 4A state regional game at Wenatchee High School, though, taking the Wildcats’ decade-long dream of making the state tournament at the Tacoma Dome with them.
“It was a lot of embracing, a lot of emotions,” Eastmont coach Mike Waters said of the locker room after the game, which included five seniors that began playing together in third grade AAU. “We didn’t talk about this stuff (statistics). … It was a locker room of people who deeply care about each other that don’t want it to end. Unfortunately it ended.”
The Wildcats (19-4 record) struggled out of the gate against a defensive-minded Knights (18-8) team that is loaded with long wingspans and burly athletes. And it didn’t help matters that four of Eastmont’s normal starters sat out the first four minutes for violating the school’s Athletic Policy and Code of Conduct.
“That’s an impact — we always put on the board that we’ve gotta have a good start. The game plan was definitely a little different to get the game started,” Waters said.
With the Wildcats having a hard time early, Newport’s biggest player, 6-foot-6 center Calvin Throckmorton, had a field day and poured in eight of his 12 points before halftime.
“In the first quarter, 50 (Throckmorton) ate us up,” Waters said. “We were a little late in rotations to him. We were close — it seemed like we were just a half-second behind.”
Things could only get better for Eastmont after it shot just 20.8 percent from the floor in the first half, and they certainly did.
The Wildcats woke up — and in turn, brought to life its sizable cheering section — by opening the third quarter on an 8-0 run to make it a one-point game.
It was the first of many times Eastmont would come within a basket of the lead, but the Knights had an answer every time.
Newport forward Will Ferris (team-high 13 points) canned a 3 to end that particular Wildcats’ run, and the Knights took a two-point advantage into the final quarter.
“Good teams make runs, and good teams answer,” Newport coach Steve Haizlip said.
Eastmont brought the lead back down to one again early in the fourth, but point guard Jason Lock and Ferris hit back-to-back shots to push the score to 36-30.
J.J. Jahr hit a trey for Eastmont to cut it to 36-35, but Newport’s Jake Higgins answered with a 3 of his own for his only make of the day.
“He’s probably hit more big shots than anybody on our team, and that’s why he was in the game,” Haizlip said of Higgins.
The Wildcats had one last gasp in the final two minutes, when it trailed by three. Senior guard Trea Thomas rejected Throckmorton to start an Eastmont possession, but the Wildcats came up empty on four straight attempts at the basket, including three shots from beyond the arc, until Newport corralled a rebound and called a timeout.
A Thomas drive put Eastmont back within three, and it nearly forced the Knights into a turnover on the next possession. Instead, Lock found Throckmorton in the key with just seconds remaining on the shot clock, and Throckmorton converted to make it a five-point game, essentially out of reach for Eastmont with less than 30 seconds remaining.
Haizlip said it was “just composure” that allowed the Knights to escape.
“I’ve always said we have composure. I didn’t even call a timeout (in the fourth quarter). I had five left,” he said.
The Wildcats did a lot to keep themselves in the game. They attacked the bigger Knights with regularity, and as a result shot 14 for 18 on free throws to Newport’s 9 for 12. They won the offensive rebound battle 20-12. And they held the Knights to 38.6 percent shooting.
“They get three, if not four, guys in double figures scoring (on average), and tonight they had two,” Waters said. “Obviously we’re the much smaller team, but we got 20 offensive rebounds. That’s just pure guts. … Category by category, we did some great things.”
But one thing stood out after the game — a 22.6 shooting percentage, the Wildcats’ lowest of the season.
“Obviously it was a tough night to get the ball in the hoop,” Waters said.
Thomas led Eastmont with 13 points and four blocks, while Dalin McDonnell had a double-double of 11 points and 11 rebounds.
“(McDonnell) just poured his heart on the floor. In fact, every kid did,” Waters said. “The seniors always wanted to get to Tacoma. They didn’t quite get there, but it was not for a lack of effort. It was just an inability to put the ball in the basket more times than we did.”