Cougs the favorite for District title
The Chewelah Cougars (17-3, 12-0) finished their regular season on a roll, going undefeated in Northeast A League play and now riding a 15-game winning streak into the NEA and Bi-District tournaments.
The NEA tournament got underway on Monday with boyâ€™s games. Medical Lake traveled to Chewelah for a seeding game into the Bi-District Tournament. The top two finishers during the NEA regular season automatically advance to the Bi-District Tournament.
In NEA loser-out games, Newport was at Lakeside and Riverside visited Freeman.
Last week, Chewelah defeated Medical Lake and Newport to finish out the regular season.
Chewelah is winning games with a game plan built around smothering defense and timely shooting. That strategy is not going to change anytime soon for the Cougars.
â€śSome people think you should change things up once in a while, but you should stick with what got you to the dance,â€ť head coach Rocky Verbeck said of his Cougars and how he plans to prepare for the post-season and a run at a State 1A berth.
That run, which hasnâ€™t included a loss since the Cougars fell at Colville in a non-league game, has meant sharing the ball and playing tough defense.
â€śThe kids are getting into playing good defense and sharing the ball,â€ť Verbeck said.
Last Tuesdayâ€™s game against Medical Lake was a bit of a preview of the Feb. 4 game back home against the Cardinals of Medical Lake.
Last Tuesday, the Cardinals had some early success against the Cougars with the three- point shot. Medical Lake hit four of their first five three- point shots while tying up the Cougars with a slow half court style of game.
â€śHe (ML coach Arnold Brown) likes to keep the game in the 30â€™s and 40â€™s,â€ť said coach Verbeck. â€ťTheyâ€™ve changed some things upâ€¦heâ€™s playing some new kids that have been playing well recently.â€ť
At the end of the first quarter, Medical Lake led 12-9. The Cougars came out in the second quarter and dominated the entire period. Deylin Peone, Ben Johnstone and Brandon Smith all hit three-pointers and the Chewelah transition game found its rhythm and outscored the Cardinals 21-8 in the quarter to take a 30-20 lead into halftime.
In the second half, the Cougars kept scoring and kept playing strong defense. Chewelah continued to pull away and won 57-38.
Derek Smith led all scorers with 20 points. Brandon Smith added 17 for the Cougars, while Austin Garza and Jaelon Stith both scored nine to lead the Cardinals.
Last Friday, Chewelah traveled to Newport to face the Grizzlies (6-14, 3-9). Once again, Chewelah played lock-down defense while pushing the ball up the floor at every opportunity.
Chewelah built a 27-10 halftime lead on their way to a 63-32 win.
Lars Berger scored 16 points to lead all scorers and Derek Smith added 14.
The Grizzlies were led by Jeron Konkrightâ€™s 15 points.
Even with the comfortable win, coach Verbeck wasnâ€™t going to let the Cougars rest on their accomplishments.
â€śYou could say we had a bit of a letdown against them,â€ť Verbeck said. â€śI know itâ€™s hard to say you had a letdown when you win by 31 points, but since we got a lot of guys in there, we didnâ€™t play well as a whole unit against Newport.â€ť
With the seeding game against Medical Lake yet to be played as of this writing, it was unclear who the Cougars might draw in the Bi-District tournament.
If the Cougars handle ML, they will play Brewster of the Caribou-Trail League (12-7, 8-6) at 8:30 on Friday night. If Chewelah happened to lose Mondayâ€™s game, they will play Chelan (14-4, 12-2) at 3:15 on Friday.
The Bi-District Tournament will be played at West Valley High School in Spokane this weekend. Next weekend, the final rounds, including the championship game, will be played at Omak High School.