For the better part of three quarters, the Ocosta Wildcats seemed to be cruising toward a spot in the 2B District 4 Tournament, holding a comfortable double-digit lead against the visiting Kalama Chinooks.
But Kalama rallied to take a late lead before Cole Hatton and Colby Scheuber’s heroics led Ocosta to a nail-biting 51-47 victory in a district play-in game on Tuesday in Westport.
Ocosta (11-10 overall) held a double-digit lead after a blistering 18-5 first quarter and kept Kalama (5-15) at a distance as the Chinooks, who got as close as six points at the half, were kept at an 8-10 point deficit through the bulk of the first three quarters.
Leading 39-30 entering the fourth, Ocosta saw its lead quickly dwindle to three points as Kalama fed the ball to sophomore guard, Jackson Esary, and he delivered. Esary scored six points as the Chinooks opened the quarter on an 8-2 run to cut the Ocosta lead to 41-38 with 5:25 remaining in the game.
Ocosta responded by doing what it did the entire game when it needed a basket: Get the ball to Omar Luque in the post and let him go to work. Luque, who led Ocosta with 22 points, scored on a fake left-shoot right post move to put Ocosta up 43-38 with just over four minutes left in the game.
“Omar is a stud inside,” Ocosta head coach Jason Quinby said. “He’s good.”
But Esary got the game to within a point after scoring on a layup and, following an Ocosta turnover, scored again to bring Kalama to within a point at 43-42, forcing an Ocosta timeout with 1:53 left on the clock.
Luque responded by taking a feed from Kobe Rudolph and scoring on a bank shot in the low post to give Ocosta a 45-42 lead with 1:39 left.
The Kalama offense then came down court and found Esary again, this time for a 3-pointer to tie the game at 45-45 with 1:22 left and erase what was once a 13-point Ocosta lead.
Hatton then drove to the post, drew a double-team and made a nifty over-the-shoulder no-look pass to a cutting Luque under the basket. But the 6-foot-5 junior missed and the ball was rebounded by Esary, who drove the length of the floor and pulled up for a 15-foot jumper. Esary’s shot was off the front of the rim, but teammate Jack Doerty streaked uncontested from the backside to grab the offensive rebound and score to give Kalama a 47-45 lead with just 38.3 seconds remaining.
The Wildcats, declining to call timeout to set up a play, put the ball in Hatton’s hands with the game, and season, on the line. Hatton dribbled to the elbow, probed the lane then retreated to the 3-point line. He quickly handed the ball off to Wardlow, who fed the ball back to Hatton after Hatton created some space between him and Brandenburg, who was defending on the play.
Hatton then took two steps forward and let fly an NBA-range 3-pointer that caught nothing but net, giving Ocosta a 48-47 lead with 18.6 seconds left and sending the Wildcats’ crowd into a roar.
Kalama got the ball into the hands of Esary on the inbound, but he was quickly double-teamed in the back court and had to get rid of the ball, which eventually found its way into the hands of Brandenburg for an open three in the corner, but Brandenburg’s shot barely drew iron and was deflected out toward mid court.
Scheuber outran Esary to the loose ball and was fouled on a breakaway with 4.6 seconds left, giving Scheuber two free throws and Ocosta the ball. Scheuber buried both freebies to give Ocosta a 50-47 lead.
Luque was fouled on the subsequent inbound pass and made the first of two free throws to secure the 51-47 victory and a date in the 2B District 4 Tournament.
“I got more gray hairs than when I started tonight,” a relieved Quinby quipped after the game. “Our top shooter (Rudolph) didn’t make a single shot tonight. We survived an 0-for night from Kobe and that doesn’t happen too often. … He just had an off-night. He’ll bounce back. But to be able to get it done tonight, the rest of the guys picked up the slack. … We had five different guys make a 3-pointer tonight and not one of them was from our best shooter. I’ll take that.”
Luque led Ocosta with 22 points on 9-of-21 (43%) shooting, most of those coming in the painted area sans one 3-pointer.
Hatton finished with 15 points on 6-of-17 (35%) shooting for an Ocosta team that went 19-for-58 (33%) from the floor, including 7-of-26 (27%) from beyond-the-arc.
“We’ve been down plenty of times this year, but we just try to keep our composure,” Hatton said of the victory. “Just like our last couple of games, we were able to stick through and win it.”
Esary led all scorers with 32 points on 14-of-36 (39%) shooting.
“Esary took over the game. … That kid is phenomenal,” Quinby said of Kalama’s fourth-quarter push. “That really was the difference. He wanted to get them back in the game and he did and we didn’t really have an answer for him. … We held on and survived though.”
Quinby said Ocosta winning some close games late in the season after losing some earlier in the year prepared his players for the pressure of the moment.
“We’ve played three literally down-to-the-last-second games out of our last four, so our guys are kind of used to it and I think they like doing that to me,” he joked.
“We’ve definitely improved on that,” Hatton said of how the Wildcats respond in pressure situations. “We’re a young team so now that we’re getting deeper into the season and into the playoffs, we’re stepping up and finishing games.”