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Cougars are the champs
After the turn of the new year, there was nothing to stop the Langley Middle School Cougars.
The seventh-grade boys basketball team, which was 6-1 at winter break, rolled through three more opponents to cap their season late last month and give them a North County League championship on the strength of a 9-1 season record.
The sevies did the job at home and on the road. In a 42-32 win on Jan. 7 at Langley Middle School, the young team took a break from its usual winning strategy -- barely and at the last second -- by putting some distance between themselves and Snohomish's Valley View Middle School. To get that distance, the Cougars came out hot, scoring 18 points in the first quarter.
Up 10 at the break, the Cougars found themselves defending against an aggressive Valley View in the second half. The Snohomish team limited the Cougars to only five field goals over the last two quarters, but had to do a lot of fouling to do it. As a result, the Cougars went to the free-throw line 20 times and hit 15 penalty shots.
On defense, the Cougars were stingy as well. Valley View got only four chances at the free throw line and scored on only one. Ben Iddins led the Cougars with 22 points.
Three days later with Everett's Heatherwood visiting, Cougars were up against a much taller, quicker team than they faced with Valley View. Both the Cougars and Heatherwood played an effective zone defense in the first half. The Cougars penetrated for points in the paint or took fouls to earn trips the free-throw line. Heatherwood took a different approach, using numerous fast breaks and good field shooting to stay ahead for an 22-18 first half.
In the second half, the Cougars pressured Heatherwood's guards full court, while Heatherwood went to a sagging man to man. As in the previous game, the Cougars picked up second-half fouls and converted on the line. Down by three going into the final period, the Cougars got their first lead with 45 seconds to go, then held out for the 52-48 win.
In the season closer against Gateway Middle School of Everett, the Cougars went on the road. Both teams came out early with playoff intensity. A strong defensive battle yielded up a 16-14 first half, with the Cougars barely in the lead.
LMS coach John Pyrtek said he told his boys during the break to defend nose-to-nose for the rest of the game. There was little scoring movement in the third quarter as the two teams stayed within a couple of points.
The game looked to be over in the fourth quarter when, down 47-43, the Cougars were spelled with 13 seconds to play when Ben Iddins hit a three-point play to send the game into overtime. Once there, the Cougars made stops and hit their last six free throws to win 58-55.
Pyrtek credited several players with the team's success down the stretch. Even as Iddins again led the team with 23 points, Lakota Holder bagged 21 and Jason Tenuta 10. On defense, Chad Anderson, Jason Fitz and Noah Jolley were the best stoppers.
Without the win, the Cougars would have shared the league championship with Everett's Evergreen Middle School. The Greeners lost their final game to Eisenhower on Jan. 14 to finish 8-2.
In all, the Cougars won five games by four points or less in the last minute or in overtime.