WENATCHEE — As a four-year varsity player for the Eastmont Wildcats, Nikki Gilbert has no problem with the pressure of shooting free throws late in a game. Even if it’s against the rival Wenatchee Panthers.
Gilbert was a cool customer late in the Wildcats’ 53-48 win over Wenatchee on Saturday night, hitting 7 of 8 free throws down the stretch of the Big Nine contest to help Eastmont (10-3 overall, 5-3 Big Nine) earn its second win this season against the Panthers (2-10, 1-7).
“It’s a really great feeling,” said the 5-foot-1 Gilbert, who scored a game-high 20 points to go along with three assists. “I felt confident (shooting the free throws) — every practice we shoot free throws to get water, so I’m focused to get the big ones.”
“She’s our senior point guard. I don’t know who else you would want there (shooting late free throws),” Eastmont coach Tessa Bromiley said.
The Wildcats also had a pair of big free throws from a different source — freshman post Abby Waterhouse, whose two freebies with 1:18 to go derailed an 11-4 Wenatchee run that had closed the gap to 44-42. Waterhouse also had key free throws in overtime of the Wildcats’ win over Wenatchee on Dec. 14.
“When it comes down to pressure free throws, it seems like (Waterhouse) enjoys the pressure,” Bromiley said.
Eastmont led nearly the whole game, but strong play in the post helped the Panthers take the deficit down to one point early in the third quarter.
“We were just taking care of the ball and trying to get the ball into our posts,” Wenatchee coach Robin Kansky said. “Our posts started working together well with high-low stuff.”
Amira Chandler led the Panthers with 15 points, while fellow sophomore post Ali Sealby added 10.
“Amira’s been a pretty consistent double-double the last few games,” Kansky said. “We have to continue to get it to her.”
The smaller Wildcats kept the lead on their side with a good performance on the boards. They finished with 23 rebounds to the Panthers’ 24.
“(Eastmont) did a good job of boxing out, and we didn’t get any second chances in the second half as I recall,” Kansky said. “It’s a credit to them. They played very good defense on us.”
After the Panthers took them to overtime in December, the Wildcats started posts Waterhouse, Savannah Jackson and Kelsie Best to offset Wenatchee’s height advantage.
“We started a bigger front than we usually have, and that helped us,” Bromiley said. “I definitely think (the posts) are Wenatchee’s strength, and they had work pretty hard to get the ball tonight.”
Senior guard Kylie Buterbaugh added 11 points for Eastmont, which bounced back from a loss to Moses Lake the night before.
“We came out with a different look tonight. We came out with our heads high and ready to work,” Bromiley said.
“It was very important to keep us up in the league standings and get momentum back,” Gilbert said of the win.
The loss for the Panthers was just another in a long line of close calls.
“It’s not just that it’s the second loss to Eastmont, it’s every game we’re right there,” Kansky said. “As soon as we get over the hump, things will get a lot more fun for us.”
Moses Lake 58, Eastmont 51
Big Nine-leading Moses Lake won the turnover battle 15-3 to defeat the Wildcats.
The Chiefs pulled away from a 21-21 tie in the second quarter with an 11-2 run, and they never let the game get any closer than five points from there.
Jackson was a bright spot for the Wildcats with a team-high 14 points and eight rebounds off the bench.
Sunnyside 57, Wenatchee 55
The Grizzlies knocked down two free throws with 15 seconds to go to break a 55-55 tie and add another close loss to Wenatchee’s list of heartbreakers this season.
The Panthers did plenty right to put themselves in position to win.
Ali Sealby’s defensive pressure held Sunnyside’s leading scorer, Jordan Rodriguez, to just three points in the second half.
Amira Chandler led the team with 18 points and Riley Brown finished with 11.
World sports writer Jon Frank contributed to this report.