PUYALLUP, Wash. — Walla Walla played its best half of basketball so far this season here Sunday afternoon en route to an 81-64 victory over Clackamas in the third-place game at the Raiders Classic women’s tournament at Pierce Community College.
The Warriors, playing with a purpose after Saturday’s 66-60 loss to Lane in the tournament’s semifinal round, bolted to a 25-9 lead after one quarter and took a 44-16 advantage into the locker room at halftime.
The Cougars never got closer than the final 17-point margin in the second half.
“That first half was easily the best we’ve played all year, nothing close to it,” veteran WWCC coach Bobbi Hazeltine said. “It was kind of like last year’s team, really fun with all things coming together.”
A year ago, the Walla Wallans rolled to a 32-1 record and captured the school’s third Northwest Athletic Conference championship. But the top six players from that squad have all moved on.
Freshman Jessica Cheney, a 5-foot-7 guard out of White Swan, Wash., led the way Sunday with a career-high 29 points on 10-for-17 shooting overall and 8-for-10 from beyond the 3-point line.
“She started out going 5-for-5 from 3-point distance,” Hazeltine said of Cheney. “She had a good tournament and played really well for us.”
Sophomore Kate Renfro, a 5-6 guard, sank 3-of-4 3-pointers and was the only other Warriors player in double figures with 19 points. Sophomore point guard McKenzie Gunter narrowly missed doubles with nine points and freshman post Holly Golenor and freshman guard Sailor Liefke chipped in with eight points each.
Gunter also led her team with eight rebounds and 10 assists.
“Our sophomores are playing well,” Hazeltine said. “Kate Renfro had a good game and McKenzie Gunter is trying to lead everything and is doing a really nice job. And Mallory Wilwand played solid for us off the bench.”
But Hazeltine was particularly pleased with what her other freshmen are beginning to provide.
“Holley Golenor gets better and better and is going to be one of our leading scorers once league comes around,” she said. “Bailey Stoddard, our 6-3 redshirt freshman post, posed a lot of problems for Clackamas in the middle of their zone, and Taylor Liefke gave us a big spark off the bench in every game of the tournament.
“It is encouraging that we are having some freshmen play well, because we are going to need them.”
CJ Buckely led the Cougars with 21 points, eight rebounds and six assists. Landy Williams finished with 13 points.
In Friday’s overtime win over Bellevue, the Warriors got a lot of minutes from McKenzie Gunter who ended with 43 minutes played and had a game-high 19 points on 6-of-19 shooting and going 6-of-10 from the charity stripe.
Sailor Liefke added 10 points off the bench on 4-of-5 shooting.
In Saturday’s loss to Lane College, Holly Golenor led the way for Walla Walla with 16 points.
“Lane is probably one of the best if not the best teams in our conference but we played with them,” Warriors coach Bobbi Hazeltine said. “We got down early in the first quarter, but we came back in the second and tied it up with them.
“We just made a lot of inexperianced mistakes there at the end,” Hazeltine continued. “I feel if we don’t make those mistakes, we probably could’ve pulled this one out.”
The Warriors got production off the bench Saturday as well, with 11 points from Sailor Liefke and solid play from Bailey Stoddard.
“We got some really good play off the bench with Sailor Liefke and Bailey Stoddard, both freshmen so that was good,” Hazeltine said. “Bailey played much but she played well for us of the bench tonight.”
After defeating Walla Walla in the semis, Lane went to win the tournament championship with a 71-66 victory over Columbia Basin Sunday. Wenatchee topped Peninsula 67-65 in the fourth-place game.
The Warriors go back on the road to participate in an NWAC crossover tournament at Clark this weekend in Vancouver, Wash. The Warriors will play the host Penguins Friday at 7 p.m., tackle Grays Harbor Saturday at 2 p.m. and face off with Shoreline Sunday at 1 p.m.
The Warriors are now 5-3 on the season and have played all but two of their eight games on the road.
“It’s good for us, really good,” Hazeltine said of her road Warriors. “We’re just going to keep going out on the road and trying to get better.”