TACOMA – The Mt. Spokane Wildcats might have received a wake-up call a couple of weeks ago. They’ve been nonstop since.
A suffocating defense held ninth-seeded Mountlake Terrace to 17 first-half points and the seventh-seeded Wildcats cruised to a 70-45 win in a State 3A quarterfinal at Tacoma Dome on Thursday.
“The kids were really dialed into the scouting report,” Mt. Spokane coach David Wagenblast said. “And they really jumped each play. And in doing so, it put our opponent on their heels and we were able to then get out in transition.”
The Wildcats had eight blocked shots, six steals, outrebounded their opponent 34-20 and had a hand in every passing lane.
“We take a lot of pride in our defense and practice and scout all that stuff,” sophomore Ryan Lafferty said.
Xavier Kamalu-Vargas led Mt. Spokane with 16 points, but the Wildcats spread out the scoring. David Roe came off the bench for 12 points and three blocks, Maverick Sanders had 11 points and 13 rebounds and Lafferty had 10 points, all in the first half as the Wildcats built their insurmountable lead.
“(The game plan) was just come out strong throw the first punch,” Lafferty said. “They’re a good team, so when we got out early it was huge for us.”
It sets up a showdown with fourth-seeded Rainier Beach (20-4) and 6-foot-6, 285-pound Power Five offensive line prospect Josh Conerly Jr in a semifinal at 5:30 on Friday.
“I’m always excited for more games,” Kamalu-Vargas said. “And I’m excited to play Rainier Beach.”
“I think it is gonna be a fun atmosphere,” Wagenblast said. “That’s what high school basketball is all about, when you get a chance to go against somebody that’s won the state championship eight times in the last 20 years. That’s who we want to play.”
“We like to be the underdogs,” Lafferty said. “And I think us being from the East Side, you know, we get overlooked a little bit, but it is what it is.”
After a loss to Ferris in a District 8 semifinal forced the Wildcats into the loser bracket, Mt. Spokane (22-5) has won four straight, including a 69-58 upset of second-seeded Auburn in a protected regional to earn the pass to Thursday’s quarterfinal.
The Wildcats came bursting out of the gate. Lafferty scored in a variety of ways, including a two-handed dunk to finish a fastbreak, and the Wildcats led 18-6 after one quarter.
“We came out here ready,” Kamalu-Vargas said. “We got over here early, so we’ve been practicing and waiting. We’ve been wanting to play and show out.”
The Hawks (18-3) came out just as quickly in the second quarter, scoring the first nine points to make it a five-point game midway through.
The Wildcats responded in a big way, outscoring the Hawks 16-2 in the last 4 minutes of the second quarter – with Sanders picking up three straight baskets in the paint – to take a 34-17 lead into halftime.
Chapel Smith nailed an open 3 from the wing 3 minutes into the third quarter to stretch the lead to 25.
Wagenblast praised his team’s closing mentality.
“There were a couple of possessions where we came down and scored inside and then Chapel’s 3, and then it was just one play after the other – especially defensively.”
Roe had 10 points in the second half to knock back any idea of a comeback.
“(Roe) had a great game today. Just a great mindset,” Wagenblast said. “And I’m so happy for him as a senior to come out in first game of state and just be an unreal presence.”
(8) Gonzaga Prep vs (2) Curtis: The quarterfinal game between the Bullpups and the Vikings started too late for publication. Find the results at spokesman.com/high-school-sports/.
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