WENATCHEE — Eastmont and Wenatchee scrapped out the first half with stingy defense, traded buckets in the second half and needed overtime to settle the score.
In the end though, the Wildcats (12-1 overall, 7-0 Big Nine) pulled together a dominant performance in overtime to steal a 58-50 win Saturday at Wenatchee (7-6 overall, 5-3 Big Nine).
The thrilling finish was a high point for a Wildcat squad that wrapped up the weekend with two come-from-behind wins. Both rallies took an incredible amount of composure.
“They’re just a very relaxed, composed, confident team that believes that at some point, there’s going to be a turning point,” said Eastmont coach Mike Waters, whose squad is off to the strongest start of his coaching career.
The Wildcats waited and waited, until finally, the turning point came.
They survived an uncharacteristically low shooting percentage in the first half. They survived a relentless offensive attack from Dillon Sugg — who finished with a game-high 18 points — in the third quarter.
Once they made it to overtime, the killer instinct kicked in and they took the game over, scoring two quick buckets to jump to a 48-44 lead.
Junior Kai Spencer, a 5-foot-7 guard, hit two of his four 3-pointers (which accounted for all of his 12 points) in overtime to secure the win.
“He was the star of the night,” Wenatchee coach Ron Stone said.
Spencer’s clutch baskets were big, but it was a calculated team effort that put Eastmont in position to succeed.
After suffering nine turnovers in the first half alone, it took much better care of the ball, committing only three more all game. And despite playing from behind for much of the second half, the Wildcats never trailed by double digits. Credit that to a sense of urgency.
“The kids know that if you don’t bring your ‘A’ game every night, you’re going to get beat,” Waters said.
It was the second meeting between the two Big Nine teams this season, and the Wildcats prevailed again. But this Wenatchee squad was much a much tougher team than the one that lost at the Town Toyota Center in mid-December.
“It was way tougher tonight to get this win than it was at the Town Toyota Center,” Waters said.
The Panthers did a better job of attacking the inside and exploiting their size advantage. Additionally, their zone defense was effective in keeping Eastmont from creating dribble penetration. But arguably the biggest difference was the mental fortitude.
“The difference was we just played with energy and emotion,” Stone said. “Really, that’s it.”
For everything Wenatchee did right, it couldn’t pull off the upset. A couple of turnovers in overtime and defensive breakdowns sunk the home team’s chances.
“We know we’re going to have turnovers,” Stone said. “We just can’t have them at critical stages.”
For all the improvements the Panthers have made since December, it still wasn’t enough to overcome the tenacity of the Wildcats.
Wenatchee 57, Sunnyside 53, OT
After allowing 24 points and giving up their lead in the fourth quarter, the Panthers took care of business in overtime Friday against Sunnyside. They didn’t turn the ball over once and went 7-of-8 from the free throw line to come away with a much-needed Big Nine victory.
The Panthers were able to survive the Grizzlies’ second half scoring frenzy — despite lackluster play at times — and play at a high level when it mattered most.
“The great thing is, we hung tough and hit free throws when they counted,” Stone said.
Sugg was his usual self, scoring from all over the floor. He finished with a game-high 26 points.
Eastmont 68, Moses Lake 33
The Wildcats came back from three-point halftime deficit by blowing out the Chiefs 53-15 in the second half.
After shooting just 17.2 percent before the break, Eastmont connected on 80 percent of its attempts in the second half to stay perfect in league play.
Trea Thomas had a game-high 30 points, including 13 in the fourth quarter, and six assists to lead Eastmont.
Dalin McDonnell and Spencer added 12 points apiece, all coming in the second half.
World sports writer Brent Stecker contributed to this report.