'Cats open with trilling win against Yakima

SNOQUALMIE - The Mount Si Wildcats boys basketball team narrowly avoided a letdown last Friday night in their season opener.

Despite a lead which hovered around 10 points most of the game, Mount Si needed overtime to fight off a very resilient bunch of West Valley Rams from Yakima.

Junior guard Ryan Reilly scored 15 points, including 4 big ones in the overtime session, as the Wildcats defeated the 3A Mid-Valley League Rams 60-58 at Mount Si High School. The non-league game, which thanks to the Rams' late rally to force overtime, ended with a wild finish.

"We were up a lot to start and we really shouldn't have let it get as close as it did," said Wildcat junior forward Kevin Englund, whose block of a West Valley shot attempt with two seconds left sealed the game for Mount Si. "But, you know, we can look at that as a good learning experience, and once we get them down, (we've) got to learn to just get up there, and keep pushing, keep applying good pressure."

The Wildcats held the lead from the opening tip until the Rams hit a buzzer-beating 3-point shot at the end of regulation time to tie the game at 50-50. West Valley took the lead to open the overtime, but Reilly and Englund hit a pair of free throws each to re-tie the contest at 54-54.

Rams senior guard Drew Cavanaugh then hit a basket to put the Rams back into the lead. Like Reilly, Cavanaugh finished with 15 points. Reilly countered with a basket of his own to re-tie the game again at 56-56. Then with a minute left, Cavanaugh hit a basket, a play that was followed by a Ram foul against Wildcat junior guard Kyle Clearman, who then tied the game one more time at 58-58 with two free throws.

With 18 seconds left, and the Rams holding for the winning shot, West Valley inexplicably threw the ball away for an over and back violation, giving the ball to Mount Si. Clearman, with 12 seconds left in the overtime, hit the game-winning fall-away jumper, and Englund's block capped it off. The Rams got one last shot off, but it missed the basket, and Mount Si had survived.

"Great for an early season test to get a close game like that, and especially to come out on the victorious side is very satisfying, but there's so much stuff we need to work on," said Wildcats Coach Garrick Phillips.

Senior guard Brian Swift led West Valley with a game-high 17 points. He, however, did not play in the overtime, as he fouled out late in regulation. His absence in overtime may have contributed to the Rams' defeat, according to West Valley Coach Jim Berndt.

"(Swift's) a big part of our offense. The guy can really play and not from the standpoint that he can score, but also from the standpoint that he draws a crowd. You know, when he catches the ball, the other team is putting two or three guys on him and that opens up some other guys, so that's a pretty big loss for us," said Berndt.

For the Rams, playing Mount Si was a good early-season test.

"Well, we start league (this) Saturday, so this was a great game for us," said Berndt. "If anything's going to prepare you for league, this is it, and Mount Si was probably as good as any team in our league, so I was pleased. They're really athletic and they're good basketball players and we played them tough."

There's a lot the Wildcats can learn from a near-miss like the game against West Valley.

"We have to continue to come out early and continue applying pressure," said Englund. "Another thing we've got to do is play good, solid defense and the key is just defense."

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