Behind the 35 points from Colby White and the return of Elijah Labow, Central Kitsap beat Shorecrest 75-65 Saturday to return to state for the first time since 2005
ISSAQUAH — Central Kitsap’s boys basketball team will experience a lot of firsts come Wednesday.
The Cougars are the first CK team since 2005 to enter the confines of the Tacoma Dome in search of the 3A state boys basketball trophy.
It will be the first time CK head coach Scott McMinds will coach at the state tournament in his 24 years.
And it all stemmed from a 75-65 win over Shorecrest at a 3A regional playoff game at Issaquah High School Saturday.
This week will be a time to cherish for Central’s two senior guards, Colby White, the All-South Sound Conference MVP and Elijah Labow.
“We knew we could win this game,” said White, who finished with 35 points. “We just had to play our defense … and our guys locking down and rebound. Rebounding was huge this game. Our big guys, Elijah, we just had confidence we would win this game. We wanted to get to the next level so bad.”
Labow might have an extra tug at his heart as he runs onto the court during warmups for Wednesday’s 9 a.m. game against Marysville-Pilchuk.
Labow very nearly didn’t play his final season after breaking his ankle in January against Shelton. The 6-3 Labow worked himself back into shape to get ready by the postseason. He earned the start, and while a bit rusty on the shooting end, was effective on the defensive end.
“It’s an honor to be in this position,” Labow said. “I’m so proud of my guys to get us here. Without them we wouldn’t be here and to fight back to get us to the dome, that’s somewhere I haven’t been in my four years of high school. It’s an amazing feeling.”
The Cougars found their rhythm early, and despite a strong effort by the Highlanders, Central’s win meant a Cougar team would be returning to state for the first time since 2005.
The 2005 Cougar team won a fifth-place trophy.
The 2020 version would like nothing better than to top it.
“We have a lot of kids that play with a lot of heart,” McMinds said. “I just have to say I was so happy for Elijah LeBow. He thought his season was over when he fractured his ankle in Shelton (Jan. 27). That was a long time ago … and to see him come out, in the starting lineup, keep balls alive … I’m just super happy for him.”
Labow said he was bummed out for a long while after his ankle injury.
“Family, friends and teammates had my back through it all,” he said.
CK’s White scored 24 of his 35 points in the first half. On the other end, Shorecrest’s Elijah Johnson also scored 35 points as the two players combined for 70 of the game’s 140 points.
“It’s been a dream of mine my whole life,” White said of playing at the state tournament. “It’s been one of my goals since the beginning of the year. It’s just crazy. It’s so surreal.”
White said the experience the Cougars get at the Dome will bode well for the rest of the team returning next year.
“To give them this type of environment, this fast pace, it’s going to get them ready even better for next year,” he said.
McMinds said one of his favorite things about White is he has an edge about him. White was a bit salty about giving up so many points to Johnson on the defensive end.
“He doesn’t care about his points, he wants to do everything he can to make our team win and he that’s what I love about him,” McMinds said. “He takes pride in that and he felt he gave up too many points for the team.”
CK’s players know how much it means to White and Lebow to have the opportunity to play at the Dome.
“What a dream, what a dream,” McMinds said. “Kids dream of that, coaches dream of coaching there. It’s the pinnacle of where we want to end our season.”
Central opened on a 10-0 run as junior Ethan Searer found his backdoor layups and White started to stroke his shots despite relentless defense by the Highlanders. Shorecrest worked its way back into the game but CK held a 15-12 lead after one period and a 32-24 lead at the break thanks to a 9-0 run to end the first half.
Shorecrest edged closer to start the second half, but with each attempt at stealing the momentum, the Cougars rebuffed the Highlanders.
White’s 3 gave CK a 41-31 lead midway through the third. He hit another three with under a minute to go and Ian Massey and Maurice Green each made their free throws after drawing fouls against the Highlanders as Central built a 48-35 lead after three periods.
The game felt like a home game for CK thanks to two rooter buses of students who cheered like mad all game. White said the atmosphere was a big part of their win.
“Just to have all those students come out and support us is amazing,” he said. “I love our fans. It’s great.”
A three-pointer by Green and a rebound and layup by Searer increased the Cougars lead to 55-37 in the fourth. But Shorecrest’s Johnson wasn’t about to give up. The 5-9 sophomore guard hit back-to-back jumpers, a layup-and-one and then a 3 to cut CK’s lead to 59-49. It was Johnson who scored nine points in the final two minutes to keep the game interesting as the Highlanders closed to within 67-61 with 41.2 seconds left.
Shorecrest was forced to foul after Searer’s layup put CK up seven and the Cougars didn’t miss at the line. Searer and White went a combined 6-for-6 to finish the game and send CK back to state for the first time in 15 years.
“We were just playing hard and all year I’ve been praising their heart and how they play with such great heart,” McMinds said, “and again tonight we needed that. Everybody does what they need to do and it’s just a great team. And they love being together. There isn’t a time they don’t enjoy being together.”
McMinds added he has no qualms about his team being ready to go for Wednesday’s early morning tilt against Marysville-Pilchuk.
“If any team will be ready, it’s this team,” he said.