Late in the third quarter of Tuesday’s Aberdeen-Centralia game at Sam Benn Gym in Aberdeen, Bobcats senior Wyatt Johnson picked up a loose ball at mid-court, drove to the basket and threw down an emphatic two-handed slam that put an exclamation point on what was a second-half run, bringing the crowd to its feet.
Yet the highlight-worthy play wasn’t the most memorable moment of the evening … not by a longshot.
And Johnson would be the first to tell you that.
The inspirational play of longtime manager turned varsity player, Aberdeen special needs student Noble Hyde, helped the Bobcats to a 61-49 victory over Centralia in one of the more memorable games in Aberdeen history.
Led by Johnson’s 16 points in the first half, Aberdeen (7-12 overall, 3-6 Evergreen 2A) held a 26-18 lead at halftime in a must-win game if the Bobcats were to secure the league’s fourth and final playoff spot.
Aberdeen decided to put an end to Centralia hopes in the third quarter. The Bobcats opened the second half on a 13-3 run, capped by a Gio Pisani 3-pointer that gave Aberdeen a comfortable 39-21 lead at the 4:40 mark the frame.
“Coach (Mark Buckman) at halftime came in and said we had to set the tone again and we couldn’t come out here thinking we had this lead and we were going to coast through this,” Johnson said. “He said we needed to come out and play with intensity and I knew that I had to play hard.”
Approximately two minutes later, Johnson threw down the monster jam in what appeared to be the play of the game.
Then Buckman decided to make Senior Night a little more memorable, instructing Hyde to go over to the scorer’s table and enter the game.
A loud cheer rose from the student section of the stands as the beloved senior, who has been the team manager for the past four seasons and was playing in his first high school game, walked on to the court with less than a minute left in the third quarter.
With the crowd chanting, “Noble! Noble! Noble!” Aberdeen junior Angel Baltazar drove to the paint and fed a bounce pass to Hyde, who banked home a shot just before the buzzer sounded, setting off a jubilant eruption from the Aberdeen bench and the crowd on hand.
But Hyde wasn’t done, scoring from the low block with 1:30 to go in the fourth quarter to put the Bobcats up 59-43, again, causing a roar from the crowd.
“I was so hyped and was trying not to get too emotional on the court for him,” Johnson said of Hyde’s play. “I love Noble so much and was so proud that he got to get in and score four points for us.”
Hyde, whose previous basketball experience was as a top scorer for the Grays Harbor Special Olympics team, put in a lot of work over the past four years for Bobcats basketball, according to Johnson.
“Every game, he’s been here for us,” Johnson said. “He’s filming for us. He’s at every single practice running the scoreboard for us or helping us out on defense and going through drills with us.”
Aside from the dramatics courtesy of Hyde, Johnson led the Bobcats with 22 points.
Aberdeen point guard Ethan Morrill scored in double figures with 10 points while Pisani finished with nine for the Bobcats.
Centralia (3-16, 2-7) was led by Derek Beairsto, who was the only Tiger in double figures with 10 points.
The win bumps Aberdeen’s lead over Centralia to two games for the all-important fourth place spot in the 2A Evergreen League with one game to play.
“We got Rochester on Thursday and we’re not going to overlook that at all,” Johnson said before offering a peek into the team’s mindset heading into a possible home play-in game. “We’re just going to come out like we have been: Go strong and get that win.”