Chewelah takes over first place in the Northeast A

Defense has keyedCougars’ runThe Jenkins High boys’ basketball team finished the first half of Northeast A League play undefeated and in first place after winning a pair of games last week. Back on Jan. 8 at Medical Lake, in a showdown for first place in the NEA, Chewelah used a big second half to beat the Cardinals 47-37, then overwhelmed visiting Newport with a stifling defensive effort in a 63-20 win on Friday.Once again, the Cougars found different ways to get the job done and won with different players making key contributions. The total team concept has been taught by head coach Rocky Verbeck since the beginning of the season and the Cougars have embraced it whole-heartedly. “We have had five different leading scorers this year,” Verbeck said. “That’s a huge plus. The bench has come in and done big things too.” Defensive pressure has been a key in eight-game winning streakAs for the second half of the NEA schedule, there won’t be any big changes on either side of the ball, just some fine-tuning. Defense has been what has carried the Cougars to the top of the NEA standings.“The kids have been concentrating on defense,” coach Verbeck pointed out. “We want to get tighter and tighter and lock teams down for the second time around the league play. “On offense, we just want to get better at what we’re doing.” The Cougars are still looking to hit their stride offensively. “We want to run better sets and be a lot more efficient there,” Verbeck added.ML RECAPThe team concept was in definite evidence for the Cougars when they traveled to Medical Lake to take on the Cardinals (8-5, 5-1) in a battle for first place in the NEA. Medical Lake jumped out to an early lead. The Cardinals’ patient ball control offense and tight defense slowed the fast- paced Cougars down and held Chewelah to only six first quarter points. ML took a 12-6 first quarter lead. In the second quarter, the Cougars found their offensive touch and went on an 8-0 run to take a 14-12 lead midway through the quarter. But the Cardinals responded with a 6-0 run of their own to take a 20-14 lead into halftime. In the second half the Cougars were able to make some key adjustments. The Cougars outscored Medical Lake 15-9 in the third period to tie the game at 29 going into the final quarter. Late run keys winEarly in the fourth quarter, Chewelah hit a pair of baskets and still held a 34-33 late into the quarter. Brandon Smith hit a three-pointer from the corner to give the Cougars a 37-33 lead with 2:15 left in the game and that seemed to breathe new life into the offense, which went on to outscore Medical Lake 10-4 down the stretch and take over first place with the 47-37 win. “It was a team thing,” said coach Verbeck. “Brandon hits a three, Ben hits a three, Derek makes a good play, and Caleb hits a pair of free throws. It was nice…all the kids made big plays. It wasn’t just one person.”It was a tough, grinder of a road win that coach Verbeck and his kids were happy to have. “It was a huge win,” Verbeck said. “Medical Lake is very athletic and very good. Trailing 20-14 at halftime, we just kept playing defense until it all came together. “But Brandon’s three-pointer really put us over the top.” Ben Johnstone led the Cougars with 14 points, including four three-pointers. Brandon Smith added 13 in the win. Austin Garza and Adam Paulson led Medical Lake with eight points each.NEWPORT RECAPLast Friday, the Newport Grizzlies (5-9, 2-4) visited Jenkins High School and played a Chewelah team riding a seven- game winning streak. Chewelah started a bit slowly, but with the game tied at five midway through the first quarter, the Cougars simply ran away with the game. A 12-0 run closed the first quarter and Chewelah scored the first 12 of the second quarter to take a 24-5 before Newport was able to break the Cougars’ run with less than four-minutes left in the half. Chewelah took a 32-8 lead into halftime and came out in the second half still hot. A 17-2 run to open the second half eliminated any doubt of the outcome and the Cougars coasted to a 62-20 win. “I was kind of surprised by the score,” admitted Verbeck. “It was tied there at five, but then we kind of got on a roll with a 12-0 run to finish the quarter and then kept it going in the second quarter. It was nice to see us shoot the ball fairly well.” Caleb Wiebe led all scorers with 14 points, nine rebounds and four assists, while Brandon and Derek Smith added 10 each and Lars Berger grabbed 10 rebounds to go with two points and four assists. THIS WEEKChewelah (10-3, 6-0) takes their eight-game winning streak into a full week of basketball. On Tuesday, Kettle Falls (6-7, 1-5) visits JHS. On Friday, the Cougars travel to Riverside (4-9, 2-4). Both games are scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m. On Saturday, the Cougars are back home to face the Lakeside Eagles (5-9, 4-2). The boy’s game is scheduled to start at about 5:30 p.m.