Lake City was the Idaho 5A State runner-up last season. The Timberwolves are on a mission to get back to the title game.
In its truncated spring season, Mt. Spokane went 12-0 and won the “East Region” championship, but that was a much different team, led by now-Boise State Bronco Tyson Degenhart, who still inspires the program from afar.
The young Wildcats hung with the bigger Timberwolves early and gave them a scare late, but North Idaho’s finest flexed and pulled away with an impressive opening-season win.
Kolton Mitchell scored 38 points, including five 3-pointers, and the Timberwolves beat the visiting Wildcats 76-62 to kick off the 2021-22 season for both teams.
It was a career high for Mitchell and one off the school record.
Lake City coach Jim Winger was pleased with the performance.
“This is Step 1,” he said. “There’s 20 more of these steps before we get into districts. I’ve been trying to say it and nobody wants to listen to coachspeak, but we’re really not talking about anything but what we’ve got to accomplish.
“But yeah, they are on a mission.”
“For most of our guys, this was their very first varsity game,” Mt. Spokane coach David Wagenblast said. “To go against maybe the best team in the state of Idaho, you know, we’re proud of our (effort), especially our defensive effort.”
Lake City center Blake Buchanan agreed with his coach that the T-wolves have their long-range sights set on state.
“Ever since we lost that state championship game, we’ve been working on our goal to go back,” he said. “Our biggest thing right now is taking it day by day… but we’re definitely on a mission.”
“We’re just taking it one game at a time right now,” Mitchell said. “A mission every game, that’s what we’re doing.
“We’re going to hear all this (state) stuff, especially around school, all the students talking to us. But Winger’s done a great job with just keeping us calm, not really listening to all the things and just taking it slow.”
The 6-foot-10 Buchanan ended up with 12 points, eight rebounds and five blocked shots.
“Defense is a big part of my game because I’m so long,” he said. “I don’t need to score on offense as much. We’ve got so many scorers I can sit in the paint and be a factor there and get rebounds and I’m fine with that.”
Lake City got out to a 12-6 lead in the first couple of minutes, fueled by a pair of 3s by Mitchell. After a timeout, Buchanan and Nathan Hocking threw down thunderous dunks and the T-wolves led 25-19 after one quarter.
Mitchell hit the first two buckets of the second quarter to push the lead to 10. He buried another 3 midway through the quarter and four straight free throws made it 40-24.
“Our whole team brings that energy,” Mitchell said. “I feed off our team, the team feeds off of me. So when we’ve all got energy we play some pretty good defense.”
“There’s nothing like playing against a really good, big, physical team that has an exceptional point guard,” Wagenblast said. “To start the season with an opportunity to play a great team, that’s all you can ask for your kids.”
Hocking threw down a lob, Mitchell hit 3 of 4 from the line down the stretch and Lake City led 47-30 at halftime.
Buchanan drew a charge early in the third quarter and the lead hit 20 on a floater by Mitchell at the other end.
But Mt. Spokane made a charge, as Sam Davidson hit a late 3, then Xavier Kamalu-Vargas (20 points) stole the inbound pass and hit a 3 at the buzzer to make it 61-49 after three quarters.
“I was really proud of our kids in terms of not backing down,” Wagenblast said. “In the second half, we got a little more acclimated to the speed of the game.”
Winger alluded to a communication issue that created some confusion for Lake City on defense, but he liked the way his team bounced back after Mt. Spokane made its run.
“We played good defense, but they got a couple, and then I thought we responded to that again.”
Mt. Spokane guard Ryan Lafferty hit a 3 midway through the fourth quarter to get the Wildcats’ deficit to 10, but LC’s Reece Strawn hit a 3 the next time down to push it back to 13.
Mitchell’s only points of the final quarter came in the final 50 seconds, four free throws to provide Lake City’s final score.
“Whoever gets (Mitchell) in college is gonna get the biggest gift they’ve ever got,” Winger said. “And he’ll get somewhere in a (Division I). But he can play. Period. End of discussion.”
Wagenblast said he couldn’t replace or replicate Degenhart, but his presence is still felt.
“Tyson impacts us today,” Wagenblast said. “In that a lot of the kids, they look up to him because they know him. And so a lot of the guys are putting in so much extra work because they know that’s what Tyson did.”
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