By Lukas Eggen Ely Times Staff Writer

The White Pine High boys basketball team face a stiff challenge in its quest to qualify for State. The Bobcats dropped games to Lowry (74-26) and Battle Mountain (63-52) last weekend, playing short handed because of illness and injuries. White Pine played without Mike Williams and Ty Pickell in its loss to Lowry and called up Cade Britton and Nate Lee from junior varsity to fill in.

“We weren’t at full strength, which we needed to be to be competitive,” head coach Paul Johnson said.

White Pine suffered another setback against Battle Mountain, losing Seth Lester to a twisted ankle. Despite that, the Bobcats led by one at the half, before Battle Mountain pulled away to win by 11 in the fourth quarter.

“We had some turnovers in the fourth that gave them the advantage,” Johnson said.

Despite the losses, White Pine qualified for the Division Tournament in Elko as the eighth and final seed. The top two teams from the tournament move on to the State Championship next weekend in Las Vegas. Up first for the Bobcats on Thursday evening is a match up with top-seeded Pershing County, which beat White Pine 60-47 on Dec. 7.

“Well we know that they have a great coach,” Johnson said. “Lance Condie is one of the best coaches in Nevada I think. His kids work real hard and we’ll have to match their effort.”

Johnson said Pickel is cleared to play against Pershing County. Lester’s availability for the game was unknown as of Tuesday. But even with potentially playing without Lester, Johnson said the team has what it takes to pull the upset.

“If we take care of the ball and get good shots at the basket and don’t take bad shots, but take good, fundamentally sound shots, we should be fine,” Johnson said. “We need to get offensive rebounds and don’t turn the ball over. If we do that, we’ll be fine with anybody we play.”

If the Bobcats defeat Pershing County, it will play the winner of the Whittell/Rite of Passage game on Friday. The winner of that advances to the championship game and clinches a berth to state.

To this point, White Pine’s season has seen its share of ups and downs. But heading into the post season, Johnson said the Bobcats have the ability to surprise some people.

“One of the good things, if there is a good thing about being the eighth seed, is there’s not a lot of pressure on that team,” Johnson said. “They can really go in with less stress and less pressure. They certainly understand the significance of the game and they’ll play hard like they always do. I always tell them winning or losing doesn’t matter as much as whether you feel you played as hard as you could, but if we play hard and play smart, we can come out with an upset.”

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