By Garrett Estrada
Ely times Staff Writer
White Pine High boys’ basketball coach Paul Johnson worried at the beginning of the season that his team would not be able to handle the pressure of success. After starting the season 3-0, the Bobcat’s lost five straight, plummeting into third from last in their division.
Since that fallout, the Bobcats have gone 8-3, capping off their season with a 71-33 win over Silver State Academy on Feb. 15 to head into the playoffs in Battle Mountain on Friday in third place.
Johnson said he has seen his team of mostly seniors finally settle into their game and start playing “real basketball.” Part of that has been cutting down on the turnovers that plagued the team for most of their season.
“The entire team has handled the ball a lot better over their last five games than we have previously. Our record has reflected that,” Johnson said.
The Bobcat’s long range shooting has also improved. In their rout of the Rams on Saturday, the Bobcats made 10 three-pointers, the most the team has made in a game all season, Johnson said.
Nick Johnson led the team with 24 points in that game, but it was the hot hand of Jesse Peterson that seemed like he couldn’t miss. Peterson finished the game with 18 points, shooting 73 percent from the floor.
“Jesse is one of the quickest players we have had at the high school. He is probably one of the quickest in our league,” Johnson said.
Seniors Johnson and Peterson joined Seth Lester, Ty Pickel, Dallas Setterstrom and Dillon Neagle in what would be their last home game of high school basketball players. Coach Johnson said rather than dwell on the end of things though, he wants to keep the players focused on the game against Incline on Friday at Battle Mountain.
“I don’t know that the finality or the potential end to their last season has really come up. We haven’t talked about it,” Johnson said.
As for their match up against the Incline, The Bobcat’s have struggled to find success against them, losing all three of their games to the Highlanders by double digits. Even still, Johnson said he thinks his team is capable of winning against anyone right now.
“As long as the team plays like they have in the last few games of the season I think they can beat anybody in our division,” Johnson said.
A win on Friday at Battle Mountain would secure the Bobcat’s a spot in the state championship tournament in Reno on Feb. 28. A loss would end the season.