WARDEN — The Warden Cougars closed the gap to three points with a pair of Dreyton Martinez free throws with a little over five minutes remaining in Tuesday night’s SCAC East game with Connell.
But a traditional three-point play by Austin Smith and another 3-point goal from Nolan Chase gave Connell the margin it needed to run away with a 63-52 win at Warden going into the holiday break.
Martinez popped four 3-point goals en route to a team-high 17 points. Zach Richins added 16 points and 10 rebounds for the Cougars, who dropped to 3-3 after starting the season 3-0.
The faces are new from last year’s 1A state tournament qualifier. They only have two seniors. Jack Hardman and Richins are the only ones that saw any amount of significant minutes a year ago. Martin Arriaga, Jesus Mercado and Michael Egia played spot roles for the team that made it to the SunDome for the first time in school history.
Cougars coach Wes Richins calls them a work in progress and they played the Eagles straight up through the first quarter.
“I was hoping we were going to attack a little earlier than we did. We were in the bonus pretty early in the second half. But we’re a work in progress and we’re learning,” said Richins, whose team reached the bonus with 1:33 left in the third quarter. “We wanted to see if we could take away their 3-point shooters, Nolan and Silas Chase, and make their other players try and beat us.
“I thought we did that pretty well, but at times we lost them and it hurt. But we’re growing up and it was much better than last week.”
The Eagles gained a little separation with a 14-9 low-scoring second quarter. Despite being in foul trouble, Connell continued to shoot from the perimeter, finishing the game with 10 3-point goals.
“I thought our defense was pretty good tonight. We’re a run-and-gun team, but when that doesn’t work we need to take it down low and we’re learning when to do that,” Zach Richins said. “We’re young and we’re learning right now and when we’re feelin’ it, we can be pretty good.
“I thought tonight was a big step forward from last week (where we lost 58-34 to Columbia).”
Connell is a team that out-3’ed Ephrata in the non-league play and has a lot of firepower from the perimeter. But Warden hung tough. Martinez had all four 3-point goals in the first half and the Cougars closed to three points early in the third quarter, but the Eagles used a 8-0 run midway through the third and held their own down the stretch. Connell outscored Warden 21-14 in the final quarter.
“We sure could have done better rebounding tonight. We had lot of long rebounds they were chasing down,” Hardman said. “It was pretty physical. We had rough week of practice, so I thought we stepped it up tonight.
“We have a lot of learning to do, but we’re fresh with a lot energy and potential.”
Warden hosts Omak on Dec. 28 coming out of the holiday break.
Connell 20 14 8 21 - 63
Warden 20 9 9 14 - 52
Connell - Nolan Chase 15, Paul Ridge 8, James Colclasure 2, Alex Gallo 2, Austin Smith 19, Payton Riner 4, Silas Chase 13. Totals: 12 12-16 63
Warden - Martin Arriaga 6, Jesus Mercado 4, Michael Egia 3, Jack Hardman 4, Kaden Skone 2, Zach Richins 16, Dreyton Martinez 17. Totals: 10 8-13 52.