On the strength of tight long shots and some focused free throw action, Mount Si held off a physical Juanita Rebels team to win a weekend bye and the number-two seed to KingCo.
“Our guys beat a good basketball team tonight,” said Mount Si coach Steve Helm, following Mount Si’s overtime battle Thursday, Jan. 31, at home.
In a fast, physical game, Mount Si rushed to a 12-9 lead in the first quarter, powered by a three-point shot from senior Trent Riley.
Jason Smith sniped two big buckets in the second, and Jack Nelson got one of his own at 4:45, but Rebel point leader Ty Eng answered with his own long bomb at 3:50.
Levi Botten battled it out below the net for a successful basket in the last few seconds to maintain the Mount Si lead going into the half, 29-23.
Neck and neck
But in the third, things were much tighter, defensively, with some intense face-guarding on Riley.
Still, Riley got things started with a long bomb at 5:13, Nelson scored a minute later, and Juanita's Trevor Andrews answered with a three. Eng grabbed the ball to put the Rebels ahead, 34-33.
But Nelson's three, followed by a Botten basket, two sucessful Nelson free throws and finally a score by Parker Dumas put Mount Si back in the lead, 42-41.
The third ended in a 43-43 tie.
Back and forth in the fourth, Riley's three, at 6:43, and Beau Shain's assist to Botten, made it 48-45, but Andrews answered with a three to tie things up at 4:04. There to save the day, a Riley three gave Mount Si the lead with half a minute left, 55-52, but a foul called during Eng's long, missed three-point attempt in the final seconds allowed the Rebel to go to the line, making all three shots.
And so a four-minute overtime period began, culminating in a battle of free throws. Nelson added a three pointer at 3:35, hit a lay-up at 1:45, and nailed two free throws to widen it to a five-point lead at 1:09. Botten added two more at the line, followed by Smith and Riley to end the game.
"I knew going down the stretch, I needed to help my team, I needed to make those free throws," said Botten.
"The shooters stepped up big time," he added. "Jack had an amazing game, really read me well, really got into the shooting lanes. Trent played great as always."
Opponents have known since the midpoint of the season to put pressure on Riley.
"They try to limit his touches," Helm said. "He has to work hard to get the ball open."
Helm praised the work that his leaders, Riley and Botten, do in the offseason.
“The work they do, the conditioning, is amazing,” the coach said.
On Thursday, Griffin McLain came in for junior post Tyler McCreadie and did an outstanding job of defending and helping, as did Tyler Button, who stepped up and got the team going in the first quarter, Helm said.
But it was Nelson’s night. The junior shot for 17 points, and was a force in overtime.
“We shot more threes than we ever have,” Helm said.
Mount Si made 35 percent of its three-point shots and went 13 for 18 at the free throw line, better than the team percentage goal for fouls.
“That’s huge,” Helm said. “That wins ball games.”
“It felt great to get that win tonight, in such a close game,” said Nelson. “We did a great job knocking down our free throws when we needed to, but putting the game away.”
He celebrated not having to go into a loser-out situation that weekend, and said the team will be ready to play.
“It’s time to start preparing,” Nelson said.
“We’ve got to work hard in our next couple of practices,” said Riley. “Tuesday is going to be a huge game to get into that KingCo championship.
“We’re looking forward to it,” he added. We’re ready for whoever it is.”
Thursday’s match was Senior Night for the Mount Si boys. Seniors Levi Botten, Tyler Button, Trent Riley, Jason Smith, Eli Gogan and Griffin McLain were honored, with their families.
This final night at home was, expectedly, bittersweet for these players.
“The parents came down,” Botten said. “My mom was tearing up, I was tearing up. I’m going to miss playing here.”
Mount Si now plays in the KingCo tournament, 3 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 5, at Bellevue College.
Going into the league tournament, “our guys are up to the challenge.”
• You can follow Mount Si boys basketball at http://mtsiwildcats.com/schedule.htm