When you’re as dialed in as the Zillah High boys basketball team is this season, it can be hard to find a worthy opponent.
The No. 3-ranked Leopards have been tested just four times, losing only once all season. And that was to Lynden, the No. 1-ranked team in Class 2A.
SCAC rival La Salle pushed Zillah to overtime on Jan. 19, but aside from that and two relatively comfortable wins over Wapato and Selah back in December, the Leopards have been on cruise control.
That level of dominance could lure some teams to sleep. But coach Mario Mengarelli’s team knows that now is when they need to turn up the intensity.
“Our expectations are high, just like every year,” he said. “We have crossed the district title off our list and now we’re going to be shooting for a state title.”
Zillah rolled to an easy victory in the Feb. 16 SCAC championship game, defeating Connell 86-51. The Leopards (22-1 overall) also beat College Place and Royal in the district tournament, winning the SCAC title for the seventh consecutive year.
They will take on No. 6-ranked Cashmere in the regional round of the Class 1A State Championships on Saturday, Feb. 22, at Davis High School. Both teams will advance to the SunDome next weekend because they are among the top eight seeds in the Rating Percentage Index (RPI) system.
Cashmere should give Zillah the kind of test it will need if it hopes to raise the trophy as it did back in 2017 (and 2014 before that).
“Our goal is to get better every game, no matter who we’re up against,” Mengarelli said. “We don’t always get challenged in our league games, but our guys like to get after it in practice. Even though we’ve had some lopsided victories, the players are constantly pushing one another.”
Leading the way for the Leopards again this year has been senior Antonio Salinas, a three-year starter who averaged 22 points per game this season.
The second-leading scorer was senior Cesar Diaz at 16 ppg, while freshman Claysen Delp pitched in 14 ppg.
Returning starter Brock Ellis, also a senior, averaged 13 ppg, despite missing half the season with a broken wrist he suffered in the loss to Lynden. Juniors Sebastian Godina (12 ppg) and Weston Ide (9 ppg) were also among the team’s scoring leaders.
Overall, the Leopards had five players average in double figures, while eight different players scored in double figures at least once. Seven players reached the 20-point plateau, showing how deep this team really is.
“One of our biggest strengths is our depth,” Mengarelli said. “We have really balanced scoring and our guys are great at sharing the ball. They consistently play well as a team, not just a bunch of individuals.”
The coach also praised the work of seniors Cody Vance — “our lockdown defender” — Dakota Hibbs and Kaden Magana. With so much depth on the roster, Mengarelli said it’s not uncommon for his starters to see just two quarters of action a night.
But now that the state tournament is here once again, the Leopards know it’s go time.
“We know what it’s going to take to win and we’ve been challenging ourselves every day in practice to accomplish our ultimate goal,” Mengarelli said.
A win on Saturday would advance Zillah to next Thursday’s quarterfinal round at the SunDome. A loss would put the Leopards in a loser-out contest on Feb. 27, also in Yakima.