The start of the 2019-20 season has been about as good as the Toppenish High boys basketball team could have expected.
After last Saturday’s thrilling overtime win over Prosser, the Wildcats sit at 6-0 in the CWAC (7-0 overall), winning with a balanced, athletic lineup that features only one true post player. At 6-foot-1, sophomore Jason Grant is the tallest player on the roster.
“Our biggest strengths are our speed and quickness, and we utilize them well on the defensive end to make up for our lack of size,” head coach Joseph Mesplie said. “We’re definitely not the tallest team, but our kids are always up for the challenge.”
Grant ended up being the difference in Top-Hi’s 80-79 win over Prosser, scoring a put-back off a missed free throw with six seconds remaining in overtime. He finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds, going up against the much taller Calvin Maljaars, who measures 6-5.
Senior Isaac Perez paced the offense with 27 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, while senior Mathew Ramirez added 14 points and five assists.
“We are playing well right now, but there’s still a long way to go,” said Mesplie, whose team also knocked off previously unbeaten Grandview last Friday night by a score of 68-67. “No one is satisfied with having a strong start. We don’t want to be playing our best at the start of the season. We want to be our best at the end.”
The coach explained that his seniors — Perez, Ramirez, Manuel Felan and Nick Garza — would like nothing more than to reach their peak in February and have a shot at playing in the Class 2A state tournament in the SunDome.
“These guys are hungry to win a league title, and they want to have an opportunity to play in a district title game,” Mesplie said. “It’s something they’ve been striving for since last summer.”
The Wildcats played about 30 summer league games in preparation for this season. Among the teams expected to challenge Toppenish at the top of the CWAC are Prosser, Selah, Grandview and Ephrata. Over the first month of the season, the ‘Cats have defeated all four.
“Beating Selah in their gym was a big win for us — probably the first time that’s happened in five years,” Mesplie said of the 57-52 win over last year’s state runner-up. “A big reason we’ve started off so well is that the kids have been on the same page. And that all started in the summer.”
Aside from the four seniors and Grant, others playing key roles thus far have been sophomore Riley Mesplie (the coach’s son), freshman Josh Perez (Isaac’s brother) and sophomore Freddy Robledo (Grant’s backup in the post).
Sophomores Adam Myers and Mario Larios also have been earning consistent minutes.
The coach said he’s been pleased to see such balanced scoring in the early going.
“Just about every game, we have a different leading scorer, which is kind of nice,” Mesplie said. “No matter which five guys are on the floor, they can all put it in the basket.”
As well as everyone has been playing, the coach knows the ‘Cats will likely go as far as their seniors take them.
“Isaac, Manuel and Mathew are great competitors, and they can all shoot,” Mesplie said. “They work hard in every practice and every game, and they have been great team leaders for us so far.”
The Wildcats are off until Jan. 3 when they visit Wapato. The next home game is Jan. 4 against Ellensburg.