In what could only be described as a rip-roaring game with a nail-biting finish, the Elgin Huskies boys team barely outlasted the Wallowa Cougars, 42-38 Friday night at Wallowa. “I love working with this team,” said Cougar coach Cody Lathrop. “They never quit.”

The game started conventionally, if slowly, with the Huskies pulling to a 4-10 lead in the first quarter. They opened the lead to 13-23 at the half. For both teams, shots refused to drop and even rebounding and re-shooting second and third efforts failed to find the open part of the hoop. “Elgin’s half-court traps confused our team,” Lathrop said. “But they kept trying and kept their cool although they were a little frustrated.”

In the third quarter a different Cougar team seemed to emerge from the locker-room. They avoided traps. Their passes were more on target. They worked their system and they seemed to improve in defense and steals. By the end of the third quarter, the Cougars still trailed 31-19. But they had kept the Huskies within striking distance. In the fourth quarter the Cougars kept the pressure on, scoring 19 points compared to the Huskies’ 11. With five minutes remaining, the Cougars had narrowed the gap to 34-23 on Tristin Bales’ lay-in, and foul shooting by Quentin Tillery. A Bales’ 3-pointer after a pass from Freddy DeVore brought the score to 26-34 with 4 minutes remaining.

With less than 40 seconds left, a steal by Bales and a full-tilt drive up the court for a 2-point lay-in brought the score to 40-38. On the Elgin end of the court, a long and hard pass from one Elgin player to another flew through his hands and out of bounds. It was the Cougars’ ball with 15.8 seconds left to play. Coach Lathrop called a time out. Elgin fans despaired. Wallowa fans rejoiced. The final Cougar play saw Zeb Ramsden bring the ball up court. Ultimately the ball was passed to Tillery for an open three-point shot.

But in basketball as in life, the best-laid plans go awry. The pass to Tillery was a little underpowered and off target. With less than seven seconds remaining, Elgin snagged the loose ball, galloped down court and shot. The ball missed the rim, but the shooter, Elgin’s Tristan Simpson, was fouled. With 5.5 seconds remaining, Simpson, Elgin’s ace shooter, sank both foul shots.

38-42.

“I thought we played extraordinarily well,” Lathrop said. “The team did a great job, an amazing job.” He noted that in the locker room, teammates had apologized to Tillery for muffing the pass. “They said they were cool with it, and that it wasn’t his fault, it was their fault for not getting the ball to him right,” Lathrop said. “It was really inspiring to go from how we played in the last game with Elgin, where we really got thumped, (33-57) to almost winning. The whole team played their hearts out.”

Lathrop said that for this game, it was hard to name any one outstanding player. “They were all good. They functioned truly like a team,” he said. “Zeb Hermens set people up for plays, Ryder Goller was really a spark. Quinten, Kolby and Tristin were great.”

Tristin Bales led scoring for the Cougars with 17 points, including four of seven foul shots. Zeb Hermens tossed in 8 points, including two of four foul shots. Ryder Goller contributed 7 points, including one of two foul shots. High scorers for Elgin were Tristan Simpson with 13 and Wyatt Hallgarth with 11.

The Wallowa Cougars’ game at Nixyaawii on Saturday, Feb. 1 resulted in a disheartening Cougar loss, 68-38. Scoring was more even than in the Elgin game, as the team played their system. Tristin Bales led with eight points, Ian Foster chipped in 6 and Zeb Hermans added 5. Shane Rivera led with 10 points for Nixy. “The game was another learning opportunity for us as we grow as a team and a program,” said Coach Lathrop. “ I was very proud of how the team continued to battle despite running into a very good program.”

The Cougars face off against the Imbler Panthers in Wallowa at 7 pm Friday February 7.

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