By Garrett Estrada
Ely Times Staff Writer
For one half of basketball, the White Pine Bobcats looked like they were poised to go to the state championships.
Up by five points at halftime against the Incline Highlanders Friday, coach Paul Johnson said the team was playing like they could be the first to win it all for the school in over a half decade. But poor ball handling and strong shooting by the Highlanders turned the tide in a disastrous third quarter for the Bobcats, who saw their lead quickly vanish into a double digit deficit.
“We played the first half like we were a state championship ball club. We really looked like the team to beat. In the third quarter we came out flat, and we started getting sloppy and turning the ball over,” Johnson said.
Undone by the turnovers, the Bobcats were outscored 27-11 in the third quarter. The mistakes proved to be too much for the Bobcat’s, eventually losing 81-67.
According to Johnson, the highs and lows of the game were indicative of a team that managed to survive a rollercoaster season where they went from third to last to finish third overall.
“I think the kids came together really well and played hard toward the end of the season. They never gave up and gave Incline their toughest game of the postseason,” Johnson said.
He added, “If we had just had a little bit better ball handling in the second half of the game, I really think we would be playing for a state championship.”
The loss eliminated the team from further playoff games and ended the Bobcat’s season on a bit of a low note. But despite the disappointing conclusion, Johnson said that the team, especially his seniors, have a lot to be proud of at the end of it all.
“There were a lot of tears in the locker room at the end of the game. We really didn’t talk to much about the finality of things until the bus trip home. Most of the kids didn’t even really want to think about it, they just wanted to enjoy the bus trip home, as a team,” Johnson said.
There is one senior, he admitted, that would be harder to let go than the rest. His son, Nick Johnson, was a star for the Bobcat’s all season long. He was the team’s top scorer, averaging over 20 points per game. As a coach and a father, Paul said he would “absolutely” miss coaching his son.
“We spent our lives in the gym. He didn’t get good by accident. We were in the gym every weekend shooting 500 to 1000 shots working hard to develop his skills,” Johnson said. After never getting the chance to play in college, he hopes his son will be able to play at that next level, and has already started helping him fill out applications.
Next year’s Bobcat team will look significantly different as they will also lose seniors Jesse Peterson, Seth Lester, Ty Pickel, Dallas Setterstrom and Dillon Neagle.