District playoffs start next week
The Jenkins High boys’ basketball team (15-3, 10-0) extended its winning streak to 13 games last week with a 73-33 win at home over Northport and a 64-34 win over struggling Freeman.
Head coach Rocky Verbeck credits the work the Cougars put in on defense and the players finding their roles on offense with a run that has carried the Cougars close to a Northeast A League championship as the league enters its final week before the District 7 1A playoffs get started next Monday.
“We take pride in our defense,” Verbeck said of a Chewelah team that has played some lock-down defense during the impressive run. “A lot of our offense is generated by our defense and that’s always a plus. The kids have found their identities on the floor and you can tell by the (number of) assists.”
Chewelah has been sharing the ball on offense, always looking for the best shot, no matter who is open. That’s allowing the Cougars to diversify their scoring.
Sharing the ball
“I’m enjoying the fact that we’re sharing the ball so well,” Verbeck added. “Against Lakeside, we had 21 assists; against Northport we had 18 or 19 and we were still in the mid-teens against Freeman as well.”
The Cougars are playing team basketball to near perfection right now. On defense, the Cougars are playing suffocating, pressure defense that is regularly holding teams in the 30’s. On offense, everybody is getting into the scoring act.
“It’s nice to get so many kids in that 10 to 15 point range per game,” Verbeck conceded. “There aren’t any big egos that need feeding out there…all the kids are happy to get the win at the end of the night.”
One player who had a good week for the Cougars was Caleb Wiebe. The senior scored 18 points against Northport and nine more against Freeman. The 18 points against the Mustangs was a season high and Wiebe seemed to be the focus of the offense in the non-league win over the Northeast 1B Mustangs.
“We’ve been trying to feed the post and get some things established there,” Verbeck said. “Caleb has been working really hard for us down low.”
Last Tuesday, the Northport Mustangs (9-9, 5-6) traveled south to JHS to face the Cougars. Chewelah took charge from the start, jumping ahead early with scoring from Wiebe on the inside and Ben Johnstone from the outside. Throw in some stifling defensive pressure from Derek and Brandon Smith and the Mustangs had trouble getting the ball into the front court the entire first half.
Chewelah rode this combination to a 41-19 halftime lead before cruising to a 73-33 victory.
Wiebe led all scorers with 18 points. Derek Smith added 15 and Ben Johnstone scored 13 for the Cougars.
Dalton Burke scored 10 points to lead the Mustangs.
Chewelah traveled to Freeman on Friday to play the Scotties (3-15, 3-7) and coach Verbeck wasn’t taking anything for granted with a struggling Freeman team at home.
“It’s always scary to go down and play in Freeman, because they’re always so tough on their home court,” Verbeck said. “It doesn’t matter what their record is…they’re extremely competitive.”
The Cougars followed the formula that has made them a very tough out this season and walked away with another blowout victory. Chewelah once again used their defensive pressure and some solid shooting to build another big halftime lead. The Cougars led 36-12 at the half.
In the second half, Freeman cut into the Cougars’ lead, but Chewelah went on to outscore Freeman 17-6 in the fourth quarter on the way to a 64-34 win.
Johnstone led the Cougars with 14 points while Derek Smith scored 13 and Brandon Smith added 12.
Jessie Unfred led Freeman with 12 points.
This week the Cougars have two games to wrap up the NEA regular season. On Tuesday the Medical Lake Cardinals (13-6, 9-2) are in town.
After Medical Lake was beaten by Lakeside last week, this game doesn’t have first place implications any longer, but it is senior night and most of the varsity Cougars will be playing their final regular season home game.
On Friday, the Cougars travel to Newport to face the Grizzlies (6-13, 3-8). Both games are the second game of the doubleheader and are scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. (usual start 20 minutes after the girls’ game ends).
Next Monday, the NEA playoffs begin and the Cougars are locked into the top two spots in the league. If Chewelah can take care of business this week, they’ll win an outright NEA championship and the top seed. The Cougars will most likely be playing a home game against the No. 2 seeded NEA team (either Medical Lake or Lakeside). No game time has been announced yet.