The Chewelah Cougars boys’ basketball season came to an end Saturday with a 73-47 loss to Cashmere High School in the third place/loser-out game of the 1A Bi-District tournament in Omak.
The Cougars were in the third place game by virtue of pulling out an incredible 53-50, come-from-behind win over Northeast A League rival Lakeside on Friday night.
The Cougars finished with a 19-6 overall record and won the NEA title with an unblemished 12-0 record.
While there was plenty of disappointment that the Cougars weren’t able to get out of Bi-District and qualify for the Hardwood Classic state tournament, this senior-dominated Chewelah team had a great run in 2012-2013 and will be remembered for quite some time.
“You’ve reached that point in the season where only four teams holding their trophies are happy,” Chewelah coach Rocky Verbeck said. “The kids had a great run at it--19 wins, 14-1 against the NEA and a league championship.”
Yes, it is all about the ride.
The Cougars will start next basketball season with almost an entirely clean slat. Only junior guard Mason Miller saw significant playing time this season. But despite the inexperience across the board, Verbeck isn’t too concerned.
“They’ll lack varsity experience, but the kids that we’re bringing up is a strong group and probably could have started for any team in the league this year,” Verbeck said. “In most years, they would have played varsity.”
It took a big comeback by the Cougars over Lakeside (12-13, 9-3) on Friday night at Okanogan High School for Chewelah to advance to the third place game on Saturday.
Against Lakeside, the Cougars were in their element--it was a fast-paced, back and forth game that fit Chewelah’s style. About midway through the first quarter, the Cougars had opened up a 19-11 lead, but the Eagles hung tough and reeled the Cougars back in. A Cameron Gay three-pointer at the first quarter buzzer cut the Chewelah lead to 21-18.
Lakeside continued their roll into the second quarter, building a 29-22 lead before a Lars Berger three-pointer with five seconds left cut the Cougars deficit to 29-25 at the half.
Chewelah was unable to cut into the Lakeside lead in the third quarter and going into the final quarter, the Cougars trailed 41-35. In the fourth quarter, with contributions from everybody on the floor, Chewelah began their comeback.
Within the first three minutes of the fourth period, Chewelah had cut the deficit to one point, and with 4:45 left in the game, Brandon Smith hit a three-pointer to give the Cougars their first lead since the first half, 44-43. From there, it was back and forth. With two-minutes left and the game tied at 47, Gay hit his fourth three-pointer of the game to give Lakeside a 50-47 lead.
Derek Smith scored with 45 seconds left to cut the LHS lead to 50-49. Instead of fouling right away, the Cougars chose to play defense. A steal and layup from Deylin Peone gave Chewelah a 51-50 lead with 12 seconds left.
On Lakeside’s ensuing possession, Conner Moffatt got a good look at the basket, but missed. Ben Johnstone corralled the rebound, was fouled, and sank two free throws with three seconds left. Lakeside was unable to get off a last second heave and the Cougars survived 53-50.
“It was just an unbelievable, remarkable comeback,” said coach Verbeck. “We were down nine in the fourth quarter, but we just kept plugging away and the next thing you know, we’re down by one.
“After Derek’s (Smith) basket Caleb (Wiebe) got a deflection, Deylin (Peone) picked it up and hit that runner. It was a great finish and since I had a bunch of former players in the building, it was nice that they got to see a good game.”
Verbeck was the head coach at Omak from 1994 to 2003 before coming to JHS.
Big Cashmere run in second
Johnstone led the Cougars with 20 points, while Brandon Smith added 12 and Lars Berger pulled down 12 rebounds in the win.
Colton Collins scored 18 points, Conner Moffatt and Cameron Gay added 12 for the Eagles.
Less than 24 hours later, the Cougars traveled to Omak to play Caribou-Trail League power Cashmere (17-7, 11-3) in the third place/loser out game. The winner advances to the state tournament (Hardwood Classic).
It proved to be a tough draw for Chewelah. Cashmere is likely the best team in the CTL this season, despite their seeding.
Chewelah started out well, trading baskets with the Bulldogs. With five points each from Peone and Derek Smith, the Cougars held a 16-15 lead at the end of the first quarter.
But Cashmere took over in the second quarter and continued their hot-shooting run in the third period.
In the second quarter, Johnstone hit a three-pointer to give Chewelah a 19-17 lead, but that would be the last lead the Cougars would hold on that evening.
Casey Ruether answered with a three-pointer and keyed a 28-7 run to end the half and put Cashmere up 45-26.
In the second half, things didn’t get much better for the Cougars, who were outscored 24-9 in the third quarter on the way to a 73-47 loss.
It was the worst loss of the season for Chewelah.
“They’re a good team,” Verbeck said. “I went into this tournament thinking they may have been the best team in the CTL.”
Derek Smith had 17 points, six steals, six rebounds and four assists for the Cougars. As a team, Cashmere hit a phenomenal 9 of 12 three-pointers and 27 for 44 overall from the field.
It’s tough to beat anyone when they’re shooting lights out like that.
Cashmere was led in scoring by Dylan Boyd with 24 points and Coleman McElroy with 22.
With any great season, there are many awards accompanying it. All NEA first team honors went to seniors Derek Smith and Brandon Smith; second team to fellow seniors Caleb Wiebe and Ben Johnstone.
Derek Smith was also this year’s NEA MVP. Smith, one of the best all-around athletes to ever play at JHS, unofficially established a new school record for career steals.
Head Coach Rocky Verbeck took home NEA Coach of the Year honors. Verbeck’s career record now stands at 276-190 between Jenkins and Omak high schools.