Based on its performance in practice on Monday, La Center coach Jeremy Ecklund knew his team would be in for a wake-up call.
He didn’t see the energy he’s come to expect in a practice the day before a big game, and he saw that carry over to Tuesday’s 1A district boys semifinals.
The La Center coach figured they might have to win ugly.
“We tried to tell the boys that they’re only chance to win is by playing 110 percent,” Ecklund said. “They did, and we didn’t. We thought, ‘hey, we beat them by 30 last time,’ we had a horrible practice last night, and somehow we gutted it out to win this one.”
When the final score spelled out La Center’s 58-57 win over Seton Catholic on Tuesday in the King’s Way Christian gym, the Wildcats knew the combined 47 points they outscored them by in the first two games meant nothing.
Not in the postseason, when seasons are on the line.
And from a packed gym that heavily favored Seton Catholic in the stands and a flurry of a final 30 seconds that featured what could have been a game-winning 3-pointer by the Cougars, Tuesday’s Trico league rematch had all the makings of a playoff atmosphere
It wasn’t pretty, Ecklund said, but he will take the win.
“If it’s one or 50,” the La Center coach said. “We’re not playing any slouches from here on out. It’s playoff basketball. If you can scrape one out, one point, we’ll take it no matter what.”
Isaiah Parker scored eight of Seton’s first 12 points and the Cougars jumped out to an 18-10 lead early. Parker’s 12 points in the first quarter helped Seton maintain a two-point lead at halftime after the Wildcats found some flow on offense.
He wound up with 20 points, and Henry Demsky had 22 to lead Seton, who effectively shut down La Center’s leading scorer, Hunter Ecklund. He finished with 14 points — 12 came in the second half. Avery Seter led the Wildcats with 15 points.
But early on, La Center searched far and wide for some rhythm.
Saige Keep scored five points in a row, including a corner 3-pointer to put La Center up one late in the second quarter.
Seton picked back up again in the third quarter. Up four, the Cougars strung together a 7-0 bookended by a banked jumped from Demsky and another contested fast break layup by Demsky to go up 11 points — albeit briefly, before Seton received a technical foul for an improper substitution, and two La Center free throws ended the run.
“After the first half we pulled it together and pumped each other up,” forward Colby Shaw said.
The Wildcats stretched a 12-2 run into the fourth quarter, when Shaw hit a 3-pointer to tie the game 50-50 with less than four minutes to play.
“I just was tryingto tell everyone to step up as best as I could and they fell off again,” Shaw said.
Shaw, who hasn’t been a starter, thrived at the opportunity to slide back into the lineup in what Ecklund saw as a matchup advantage.
He finished with 11 points and his three 3-pointers — La Center often sported four capable shooters on the floor at once, Shaw included — helped the Wildcats stretch out Seton’s zone defense and draw even.
“It was pretty much who wants it more,” Shaw said. “They came out knowing what they were going to do and they knew what we were going to do. It’s just a matter of getting shots and how hard we played.”
Now the Wildcats will play King’s Way for the district title on Saturday in Kelso at 8 p.m. Meanwhile, Seton will face Stevenson in a loser-out game on Thursday (top three teams in the district advance to state).
The first point of emphasis Jeremy Ecklund will key in on when approaching preparation for what could be La Center’s first district championship win since the 2001-02 season? Practice.
“Practice like you play,” he said. “It showed tonight.”
LA CENTER 58, SETON CATHOLIC 57
SETON CATHOLIC—Henry Demsky 22, Isaiah Parker 20, Matthew Kent 11, Luke Pitzer 0, Hayden Miller 1, Chris Dumas 0, Malik Williams 1, Andrew Olson 0, Zach Cowger 2. 23 (5) 6-10 57.
LA CENTER— Colby Shaw 11, Saige Keep 7, Evan Norris 8, Avery Seter 15, Matt Bryant 1, Hunter Ecklund 14, Mason Weaver 2, Wyatt Siebert 0, Jack Hiller 0. 20 (5) 13-24 58.
Seton Catholic 18 11 19 9—57
La Center 10 17 16 15—58