'Cats secure tournament berth

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SNOQUALMIE - The Mount Si Wildcats boys' basketball team will be making an appearance in the Sea-King District Tournament after defeating the Issaquah Eagles in a game that decided second place in the Kingco 3A Conference's Valley Division.

The Wildcats' 56-48 victory secured a playoff trail for the team that just about a month ago some thought might not exist for them this season. Mount Si bagged the victory thanks to the efforts of their seniors. Post Jeremy Johnston scored 20 points to lead all scorers for the Wildcats, and forward Luke Landdeck posted his third straight double-double and his sixth of the season, a 14-point, 17-rebound performance that went a long way to securing the victory. Johnston went 10-for-15 from the floor thanks to his height advantage over shorter Eagle defenders.

"I just wanted to go out and play the way I always do. Go out and play hard, and they were smaller but I just wanted to go out with a bang," said Johnston.

In addition, senior guards Jarrod Wiegardt and Evan Hillburn pitched in critical defensive efforts as well for Mount Si, and Hillburn hit a key three-pointer midway through the final quarter.

"I am really, really proud of our players and the effort they put forth. I just told them, and I believe, strongly believe that that was one of Issaquah's better efforts. They played real well early in the game and our defensive intensity and pressure down the stretch, holding them to one shot and contesting every single possession, was huge and I think that was the difference in the ballgame," said an elated Mount Si coach Garrick Phillips.

Also key to the victory was Mount Si's defense, particularly on Eagles' star junior guard Garrison Carr. After scoring a season-high 38 points on Mount Si in the two teams' last meeting, a triple-overtime Eagles win Jan. 9, Carr was held to only 17 points. While that led the Eagles in scoring, Carr only scored four of those points in the second half and went 0-for-7 from three-point range during the final half of play.

The postseason now awaits, the first game being Thursday.

"I think the sky's the limit. I told you that all along our record is no indication of the type of team we have," said Phillips. "We've proven that when we played the three teams that are ranked in the top 10. We gave a great effort against all three of those teams and I don't put any limit on it."

Opponents the Wildcats may face this postseason include Rainier Beach, Seattle Prep, O'Dea and Cleveland from the Metro League, along with the Kingco's own Mercer Island, Sammamish and Skyline. The Vikings boast one of the top programs in the state, and the Panthers welcomed back star junior post Martell Webster several days ago after being out the whole year due to a reported foot injury, so they are expected to be quite formidable.

Despite what appears to be a tough road for Mount Si, Phillips is glad that the guaranteed three games and all those extra practices (they will be able to practice now through at least Feb. 17 when they open district play) will mean something for the future of the program.

"That's going to be huge for our younger kids and the development of our program. I do agree because we have a lot of young kids that have developed through the year, and you and I both know, playoffs are a little different story. The second season's a big deal, and the kids, they're going to grow from this experience, there's no question," Phillips said.

The first Kingco 3A Tournament game for the Wildcats is Thursday at 3 p.m. against the winner of a Tuesday loser out contest between the Liberty Patriots and Skyline Spartans. Mount Si is 2-0 against Liberty; 0-1 against Skyline this season. Mount Si will then play Saturday at 11 a.m. or 2:30 p.m., depending on the outcome of the Thursday game. Both of these games will be at the Bellevue Community College gymnasium.

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