MERIDIAN — For those detractors who thought that the Kellogg Wildcats didn’t belong at the 3A State Tournament, the Wildcats were happy to prove them wrong.
Despite falling to Parma 47-43 in the consolation championship game, the Wildcats earned the respect of their peers down south and really showed that you can’t sleep on Kellogg.
Kellogg’s biggest weakness came back to haunt them.
Long athletic teams.
Fans saw it all season long, when teams were long and athletic it was difficult for the Wildcats.
They saw in the four matchups with Timberlake, as well as the three matchups with Wallace and St. Maries.
Parma was a whole other animal.
The smallest player in the Panthers’ starting lineup was the same height as Kellogg center Gavin Luna, so to say they were long and athletic would be an understatement.
It really didn’t rattle Kellogg much.
The Wildcats opened the game with hot shooting from deep once again, marking the third straight game where they used the 3-pointer as their preferred means of gaining early advantages.
Parma wasn’t shook though, they stayed disciplined on defense and made the Wildcats rely on long balls, hoping that eventually they would stop falling.
And they did.
The Wildcats played exceptional defense, keeping the Panthers from scoring and controlling the rebound battle despite the size disadvantage.
But in the third quarter, the momentum swung in Parma’s favor.
As the Wildcats were building a lead (leading by seven and with momentum), Graden Nearing took a nasty hit to the head that required that he run through a concussion protocol.
With Kellogg’s leading scorer in the tournament on the bench, Parma began chipping away at the lead and cut it to just three points as the fourth quarter began.
From there, Parma took control.
Using a 16-9 run, the Panthers got their first lead with roughly 6-minutes of play left and never relinquished it back.
“They’re big, long, and physical,” coach Jeff Nearing said. “We struggled to get our shots off. It was tough for our shooters to get the looks they liked, there was always a hand there in their face.”
This tournament was a different look for the Wildcats, who had been one of the state’s most balanced and favored teams over the last few years. Instead, this year the Wildcats were young, inexperienced, but hungry to show they were worthy of carrying the Kellogg mantle that they had inherited.
They did just that.
They overcame a tough season, battling through suspensions, losses, inclement weather and then parlayed that frustration into a terrific 7-2 finish on the year to qualify for the State Tournament (never forget Gavin Luna’s game winner).
“We beat everybody else’s expectations,” said Kellogg senior point guard Brennan Atkins, who along with junior Luna were the only Wildcats with previous state experience. “Some people were saying we shouldn’t even be down here. I think we proved them wrong, by playing as hard as we did. That (talk) motivated us to give everything that we had.”
By the end of the tournament there were multiple teams and coaches who were stunned that the Wildcats had had such and up and down year and some were even thankful that they didn’t have to play them.
For Nearing it was the end of a roller coaster ride of a season, but even though it ended with a loss, they weren’t far off their goals when they started.
“That was our goal all season, to be playing on Saturday,” Nearing said. “A lot of people didn’t expect us to be here. I told these guys early on, it would be a grind. I knew what we had; I was pretty confident we’d get here, and not just show up, but compete. I think we did that pretty well. I’m proud of how we played.”
Kellogg will graduate five players from this year’s team, but will bring back more experience than they had to begin this season with.
And that should keep those southern teams plenty nervous.
Graden Nearing was named the Idahosports.com All 3A Tournament Second Team, meanwhile Raiden Rickets and Brennan Atkins were honorable mentions.
Kellogg 9 14 11 9 — 43
Parma 9 8 14 16 — 47
KELLOGG — Waller 0, Rickets 4, Atkins 12, Oertli 2, Nearing 9, Miller 4, Davis 2, Jerome 4, Luna 6. Totals 14-40 7-8 43.
PARMA — Jensen 18, Beus 0, J. Nielsen 15, P. Rohrbacher 6, B. Rohrbacher 6, R. Nielsen 2, Powers 0. Totals 15-29 12-20 47.
Kellogg 63, Snake River 46: It starts with an emphatic clap from Brennan Atkins.
Followed by a visceral scream from Brandon Miller.
And usually ends with an, “you’re alright kid!” from coach Jeff Nearing.
The Wildcats probably didn’t need all of that intensity or motivation, but it was a lot of fun to watch as they ran all over Snake River on Friday to get to the 3A Consolation Championship Game.
The 63-46 win was as dominant a victory as the Wildcats have had all year and easily the biggest, but through three quarters it was anything but a sure thing.
Both teams were neck and neck through the first frame, but the Wildcats began to pull away in the second, pushing their lead to seven by halftime.
The third quarter saw the Panthers close the gap, but a three from Miller to end the quarter sparked a 26-11 run that effectively put the game out of reach for the Wildcats.
Graden Nearing was marvelous for the Wildcats, scoring a game high 15 points to go with five assists, while Raiden Rickets chipped in 10 points and seven rebounds.
“I thought Graden played a hell of a game for us,” Jeff Nearing said. “He scored the ball well today. Raiden really got us going. Loved his energy, especially on the glass.”
Gavin Luna had another good game for the Wildcats as well, scoring 12 points while playing the role of defensive anchor.
“Gavin was big us for us,” Nearing said. “He does all the little things and sometimes they don’t show up in the stat book, but they are important for us.”
Kellogg shot 22-for-30 from the free-throw line (73 percent), and then 7-of-14 from 3-point land.
“It’s nice when you’re hitting shots,” Nearing said. “This game wasn’t about just about winning and losing today. The finality of it really set in I think and we had something to prove. I’m proud of the way this team responded after yesterday.”
Snake River 12 9 14 11 — 46
Kellogg 13 15 12 23 — 63
SNAKE RIVER — Young 10, Ibarra 0, Watt 0, Isom 0, Anderson 0, Lindsay 13, Gilbert 4, Dawson 9, Wray 0, Cox 0, Albertson 9. Totals 15-49 10-16 46.
KELLOGG — Waller 0, Rickets 10, Atkins 9, Oertli 2, Alexander 0, Allen 0, Nearing 15, Miller 7, Davis 2, Jerome 6, Luna 12. Totals 17-35 22-30 63.
3A State Tournament opener
Marsh Valley 64, Kellogg 52: The Kellogg Wildcats couldn’t have asked for a better first round matchup at the 3A State Tournament than Marsh Valley.
Unlike most of their matchups this season, Kellogg had a size advantage at pretty much every position, but they couldn’t capitalize on it as they fell to the Eagles 64-52 at Meridian High School.
The game began at a torrid pace as both teams showed their offensive chops, knocking down deep shot after deep shot.
At the end of the first quarter the ‘Cats were leading 22-17, but Marsh Valley would rally with a 19-6 second quarter to take a lead that they would never give up.
Both Raiden Rickets and Gavin Luna finished with 11 points apiece, meanwhile Logan Jerome and Graden Nearing each chipped in 10.
The Wildcats finished the game with 12 turnovers, but it was the amount of time it took to get those turnovers that concerned coach Jeff Nearing
“We had 0 turnovers at the end of the first quarter, but then we had about five in a row during that run in the second quarter where they pulled away,” Nearing said.
Kellogg’s aggressive defense lead to many clean weak side looks, but Nearing was pleased how his hard his team worked.
“We played hard. I’m proud of the effort,” Nearing said. “From where we began the season, to where we are right now. I think we proved we belonged down here.”
Marsh Valley 17 19 15 13 — 64
Kellogg 22 6 13 11 — 52
MARSH VALLEY — Marshall 12, Wissenbach 4, Campbell 18, Argyle 0, Egley 3, Howell 7, Hansen 0, McNabb 20. Totals 26-39 7-12 64.
KELLOGG — Waller 0, Rickets 11, Atkins 6, Oertli 0, Nearing 10, Miller 0, Davis 4, Jerome 10, Luna 11. Totals 19-44 8-14 52.