Walla Walla built a 49-33 lead over Yakima with 3:45 remaining in the third quarter Wednesday night in the Dietrich Dome, but the Yaks used a scrambling press to cut the Warriors’ lead to a single basket, 65-63, with 3:10 showing on the fourth-quarter clock.
WWCC responded by sinking 11-of-16 free throws in the game’s final 1:30 to preserve an 82-73 victory in the Northwest Athletic Conference East Region women’s basketball game.
“That is the type of team they are,” Warriors coach Bobbi Hazeltine said of the Yaks’ furious comeback. “They play that style of ball and save it for the end. They are really good at it.
“Once we broke it, we were fine,” Hazeltine said of solving Yakima’s press. “But we broke it and then we turned it over a lot. We were doing the right things, just turned it over too much.”
Behind Cierra Jo McKeown’s 11 first-half points, the Warriors went to the intermission up 33-28.
The Warriors then opened the second half on a 16-5 run as six different players contributed points. Jade Skidmore led the way with six points and McKeown, Kate Ferenz, Emily Hancock, Kourtney Hutchinson and Adrianna Peralaz chipped in with two points each.
Skidmore’s coast-to-coast drive capped the run and produced the 49-33 WWCC lead. That’s when the Yaks went to the press and ended the third quarter on an 11-3 run to narrow the gap to 52-44 heading to the fourth.
The Yak pressure kept coming and Alexis Perez scored seven of her team-high 24 points as the Yaks outscored the Warriors 19-13 to open the fourth and get within two at 65-63.
“They kind of threw it (the press) on us,” Warriors point guard Skidmore said. “We had worked on it in practice, but we struggled with it. But then we got the hang of it a little bit.”
After a Ferenz free throw, and with the shot clock running down on the Warriors’ ensuing possession, Mackenzie Reddish got the ball from Hutchinson following a scramble, and Reddish knocked down a triple and the Warriors had separation at 69-63 with 1:40 left.
“That was the biggest shot of the game,” Hazeltine said. “We called the play for Cierra Jo and our players ran into each other. We had the presence of mind to get it to Mackenzie. She’s good when she’s loose and not thinking. We knew it was going in.”
The Yaks went to fouling to prolong the game, and the Warriors were up to the challenge. Skidmore connected on 9-of-12 free throws down the stretch, Reddish hit 1-of-2, and McKeown finished with 1-of-2 with 1.4 seconds left.
“We knew they would have to foul us,” Hazeltine added. “Jade really came through. They are a good team. We feel lucky to win that one.”
“I had to stay mentally there and knock them down,” Skidmore said of her 12 free-throw attempts over the last 90 seconds. “I am the point guard and the coach wants it in my hands most of the time. Then I got to the free throw line.”
Skidmore led the Warriors with 27 points, including 13-of-16 from the free throw line, plus 14 rebounds and seven assists. McKeown added 18 points and Reddish finished with 14.
“I love rebounding,” Skidmore said. “I just board and push it up the floor.”
Along with Perez’s 24 points, Sammie Blodgett tallied 21 points and Sequoia Swan 15 for the Yaks.
The Warriors improved to 10-2 in the East, 17-4 overall, and they are second in the region behind 10-1 Spokane. Yakima slipped to 5-7 and 14-10.
Walla Walla will try to solidify its hold on the region’s No. 2 seed to the NWAC Championships when it entertains last-place Blue Mountain Saturday.
“We just have to take one game at a time and stay focused,” Skidmore said. “We can’t overlook anybody because anybody is capable of beating anybody.”
Article by Ken Morgan of the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin
Photo by Greg Lehman of the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin