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Wildcats take sixth at state
'Cats historic run comes to an end
By Rhett Workman
Wildcats win two, drop two in state tournament
Team takes sixth after fall to Lynden
The Mount Si Wildcats closed out their state tournament run with a disappointing loss to the Lynden Lions. Coming off their 28-point loss to eventual state champion Seattle Prep last Friday, the Wildcats simply ran out of gas, and may have still felt the sting of the Prep game in falling 70-40 to the Lynden Lions from Whatcom County.
A 17-0 run by Lynden to open the second half sealed Mount Si's fate, and the frustration showed, as evidenced by a technical foul called on Wildcat senior Kyle Clearman during that run.
"It was just hard to see all those seniors in their last game, knowing it was their last game and playing like that. They tried their best, but that Lynden team was good," said Wildcat sophomore Blake Hepner, who got valuable experience during this game, scoring four points.
The Lions were led by a pair of double-doubles from two juniors: a 10-point, 10 rebound effort from Steven Webb and a 15 point, 11 rebound effort from Chris Bolt. Overall, the Lions dominated the battle of the boards, winning it 43-21.
Kevin Englund, one of eight Mount Si seniors playing their final game as high schoolers, scored a team-high 14 points to lead the Wildcats. When Englund fouled out late in the game, fans gave him a standing ovation. Every senior who exited the game for the last time also received an ovation. And that was the theme afterwards, giving thanks to the team and their seniors for a fine season.
Emotional community "high-five"
Following the trophy presentation, in which the sixth place trophy was presented to the team, Mount Si coach Garrick Phillips acknowledged the support of the Mount Si student section, then led his players over to the students, where high-fives and hugs were exchanged between players, coaches and fans. This emotional display lasted for several minutes and as the team went to the locker room, players continued to exchange high-fives and hugs with fans and students.
Coach Phillips talked about the community's support. "The scoreboard can't tell the story of what this group has meant to our community, to our school as a whole, and what it's done for our school spirit and the togetherness. We put a stamp on this community and it is unbelievable and something they can't take away from these kids. They need to be very proud of that, and a big reason for it is the character and the type of people that they are," said Phillips.
"It would have probably felt better if we would have won, but that's not going to take anything away from what we've accomplished this year and all the memories we've had," said senior reserve Nick Dietsch.
Valley's best pull off upset of day
Going into last Wednesday night's first-round game with highly ranked West Valley of Spokane, many had expected the Eagles, with their twin towers of seniors E.J. Richardson and Tyler Hobbs, to dominate the Wildcats. Only one problem: Richardson did not suit up for the contest after reportedly being suspended and that provided Mount Si with a chance that would ultimately be converted into the first round's biggest upset.
Kyle Meuli hit two free throws with 16 seconds left to give Mount Si a 42-41 lead, and after West Valley failed to score in the ensuing possession, Ryan Reilly finished things off by hitting a free throw of his own and the Wildcats stunned the Eagles 43-41. Kevin Englund scored 14 to lead Mount Si.
"I'm just really proud of my kids," said coach Phillips. "They deserve this. I've just been saying that over and over. Everything that we've gotten, all the attention, and the success that we've had, these kids really deserve because they're such hard-working kids, and they do the right things and make good decisions, and are just wonderful, wonderful kids," he added.
Meuli wasn't nervous when the game was in his hands at the line. "I knew we needed both of them and I kind of put that in the back of my mind and just kind of went up there like it was just practice and I was shooting my 20th free throw of the day," Meuli said.
The fans sure got their money's worth, didn't they?
The Wildcats became experts this season at giving fans great games for their money. Coming into last Thursday night's game with the Seamount League's Franklin Pierce Cardinals, Mount Si's previous three wins were by a combined six points. Well, how about another nail-biter?
Kyle Clearman only scored three points in the entire game, but his three points were the biggest Wildcat points as Mount Si fought off the Cardinals 49-46. Clearman's points came on three free throws that were all made within the last 47 seconds of the game. His first free throw broke a 46-46 tie, and after the Cardinals failed to score on the next possession, Englund picked up the rebound and Clearman was subsequently fouled. With 12 seconds left, Clearman hit a pair of shots from the foul line, then Franklin Pierce's last chance to force overtime failed and the Wildcats had survived.
It appeared, especially early in the third quarter, that Mount Si was going to have an easy time of it; with 7:14 left in the quarter, the Wildcats were up 10 at 29-19. Franklin Pierce went on a 10-2 run afterward, though, to make things tight. The Wildcats tried to regain that 10 point cushion twice, but the Cardinals stormed back both times, ultimately taking one-point leads three times in the last 3:30 of the game.
Meuli's three-pointer with 2:15 left, though, set up Mount Si for the wild finish and Clearman closed it out.
Meuli scored 16, Tommy Abbott scored 14 and grabbed nine rebounds and Englund added a double-double of 11 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Wildcats. Brandon Larrieu scored a game-high 18 for the Cardinals.
Wildcats once again no match for Hawes and Co.
Just like in the SeaKing District Tournament, the Wildcats' dreams of a tournament title came to a crushing halt at the hands of the state's best team, with arguably one of the nation's best players.
Spencer Hawes scored a double-double of 18 points and 14 rebounds, both game highs, despite being held to 7-of-11 shooting and playing just 20 minutes. Every Seattle Prep player scored points and got quality minutes on the floor as the Panthers won 68-40 to advance to the state final, which they won late last Saturday night. Prep beat Mount Si 68-41 Feb. 21 in the SeaKing semifinals at Bellevue Community College.
Englund scored eight points to lead Mount Si, who once again was dominated on the boards by the Panthers; Prep won that battle 47-14.
With the game pretty much decided at halftime (Seattle Prep led 35-11), it allowed Phillips to give quality playing time to three players who had not seen much, if any, playing time this postseason: sophomores Sam Hunston and Blake Hepner, and freshman David Wink. Hunston converted his lone shot attempt and scored two points; Hepner hit two free throws for two points and Wink hit one of two foul shots to get his name on the stat sheet.
There will be a lot of change with eight seniors leaving the program. But Hunston is ready. "I plan to work hard in this offseason, and hope to come back next year," Hunston said.
The sophomore is likely to be in contention next season for a starting spot, and the experience at state will likely help him. "I hope to bring all this experience and intelligence," said Hunston. "All these guys have set a great example for me to go by, and set the bar high for next year. And I'm going to take away a lot from this year," Hunston added.
Phillips also said this run will mean long-term benefits to the program. "Being in the stands and reading the paper and just going through this entire run will do nothing but benefit us later," the coach said.
Mount Si finished 23-7 on the season and in doing so, left a lot of memories that the Valley will cherish for many years to come.