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La Center boys capture 4th, highest finish at state since ’97

Wildcats beat Newport 51-38 to place fourth in 1A

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
20 Photos
La Center guard, Avery Seter (12), celebrates as time runs out against Newport during the WIAA 1A boys state tournament finals, on Saturday, Mar. 4, 2017 at the Yakima Valley SunDome. La Center defeated Newport 51-38, winning fourth place.
La Center guard, Avery Seter (12), celebrates as time runs out against Newport during the WIAA 1A boys state tournament finals, on Saturday, Mar. 4, 2017 at the Yakima Valley SunDome. La Center defeated Newport 51-38, winning fourth place. (TJ Mullinax/for The Columbian) Photo Gallery

YAKIMA — Twenty seasons.

That’s how long it’s been since the La Center Wildcats brought home a state trophy in boys basketball. Ask any current Wildcats about their program’s tradition, and they know all too well about the three-year stretch in the mid-1990s that included back-to-back state titles and a third-place finish.

One member of the team — coach Forbes Lapp — was still in the high school’s hallways up until last month. Lapp won 247 games in 15 seasons at La Center, and just retired from teaching physical education last month at age 79.

Said senior Matt Baher: “You want to bring (a trophy) back for him, and our school to fill that legacy.”

La Center’s 51-38 victory over Newport at the Yakima Valley SunDome Saturday morning secured fourth place, the program’s first state trophy since it won consecutive Class A state titles in 1996 and ‘97 under the now-retired Forbes.

Now, second-year coach Jeremy Ecklund hopes this year’s fourth- place finish is a start of something big again at La Center – and a new legacy — behind three seniors who helped pave the way: Baher (seven points Saturday), Jake Wise (a double-double of 22 points and 13 rebounds) and Jon Eastman.

“Hopefully, this is just the start of great things each and every year from here on out,” Ecklund said.

La Center committed just six turnovers against the Grizzlies, including a planned turnover by Eastman 5 seconds in.

In an act of sportsmanship, Newport allowed La Center to win Saturday’s opening tip, so the injured Eastman, who rolled his ankle in Friday’s overtime win over Warden, could get a proper ovation in his final high school game.
Newport coach Jamie Pancho was happy to oblige when approached by Ecklund pregame.

“He was on board right away,” he said.

When Baher caught the jump ball from Wise, he passed to Eastman, who gingerly took three dribbles before stepping on the sideline.

Reserve Jackson Leslie subbed into Eastman, who thanked Pancho for Newport’s gesture during starting lineup introductions and was emotional exiting the final time.

“I realized it’s the last time I’ll ever play with them,” he said. “We’ve been together for so long.”

Wise posted a double-double of 22 points and 13 rebounds, Baher added seven points and six rebounds, as La Center outscored the Grizzlies, 14-5, in the final eight minutes to pull away. It led 37-35 just one possession into the fourth quarter, but used an 8-0 run to grab its second double-digit lead of the game at 45-35.

Avery Seter and Hunter Ecklund also combined for 15 points for La Center.

For Baher, he hopes the 2016-17 Wildcats, who won 19 games and were co-champions of the 1A Trico League, will be remembered for their tireless work ethic and commitment.

“I don’t think many people believed in us,” he said, “but we believed in each other and ourselves. … it’s amazing feeling to know that you’ve done it with this team, these guys I’ve been with them forever.

“It’s an amazing team.”

LA CENTER 51, NEWPORT 38
La Center — Jon Eastman 0, Jake Wise 22, Avery Seter 8, Matt Baher 7, Hunter Ecklund 9, Shaydon Amstutz 0, Colby Shaw 3, Jackson Leslie 2, Mason Weaver 0. Totals 17 (3) 14-22 51

Newport — Kade Zorica 0, Koa Pancho 4, Robby Owen 9, Owen Leslie 10, Danny Bradbury 11, Tug Smith 4, Adam Moorhead 0. Totals 14 (5) 5-9 38

La Center 12 11 14 14 – 51
Newport 7 11 15 5 – 38

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