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Dome Dreams | Newport one win from 4A state tourney, trip to Tacoma
Who: Newport VS Eastmont
What: Boys 4A Regional playoffs
Where: Wenatchee High School, 1101 Millerdale Ave, Wenatchee
When: Saturday, February 23, 6 p.m.
What's on the line: A trip to the Tacoma Dome for the 4A state boys basketball tournament
Two years ago, the Newport basketball team was minutes away from a trip to the regional playoffs before falling in the waning moments to Arlington. Last week in the same pigtail playoff game, with the loser again headed home, that experience loomed large as coach Steve Haizlip's Knights survived another late charge, this time from Mount Vernon, to punch one of 16 tickets to the Class 4A Regional playoffs.
Seniors Isaac Dotson and Miles Fowler were part of the 2010-11 team that came up just short in the district tournament and both emphasized the different approach the team took this time around.
"That night, we got caught up in the atmosphere a little bit," Dotson said of the game his sophomore year. "This year, we did a lot better job of keeping our composure and finishing the game."
The reward for their efforts is a trip to Wenatchee High School to face the Big Nine champions from Eastmont.
The Wildcats defeated rival Wenatchee in the district title game behind senior guard J.J. Jahr's 18 points.
"They are a very good team and have proven they can win," Haizlip said. "From here on out, every team is good and you're going to get their best."
Newport is nearly back at full strength as well after a season that has seen multiple starters miss significant time. Dotson and sophomore Calvin Throckmorton have been back in action down the stretch and Haizlip and his players said the group gained confidence having success while they were missed time.
"Some guys have been stepping up," Fowler said. "We've worked through it and are playing well together."
It took four straight wins after an opening round loss to Bothell in the 4A KingCo tournament for the Knights to keep their season alive.
That game was the fourth consecutive defeat in a run that threatened to derail Dotson and Fowler's final prep campaign before close wins over Eastlake and then Ballard, a team that won the first two meetings between the pair, got them to the third-place game with Inglemoor and finally the clincher over Mount Vernon.
"It's really exciting to have it happen my senior year," Fowler said. "There was no way we were going to let ourselves lose this time."
The Knights' current four-game winning streak is its longest since a seven gamer in the early part of the season that included a tournament championship in Sandy, Ore. It will take a similar effort on Saturday against Eastmont, where a win sends Newport back to the Tacoma Dome for the first time since 2002 and a loss brings an abrupt end to the season.
While the Knights are making the trip to Eastern Washington for the second time this year after beating Wenatchee in a non-league game near the start of the season, the Wenatchee World reported the entire Eastmont team made the trip to Factoria to watch Newport's game with Mount Vernon.
Haizlip's group did not have that advantage and will likely rely on its sizable front court and the versatility of Fowler to take pressure of guard Will Ferris, the team's leading scorer, against the Wildcats' signature full-court pressure defense.
"I know we're going to have to keep being patient and sharing the ball," Dotson said. "Everyone is a threat on this team."
If Newport can manage the pressure both on the court and from what will surely be a partisan crowd (Eastmont is located just across the river from Wenatchee High School), their dreams of getting the program back to the Tacoma Dome for the first time in a decade will become reality.
"I haven't been there yet in my high school career in any sport," said Dotson, who along with Fowler finished the 2012 and 2010 football seasons in the state playoffs but short of the dome. "It would be awesome."