TACOMA — This time, Central Valley’s vaunted girls basketball program was the underdog.
They were more than fine with that.
Two years ago Central Valley completed one of the most dominant four-year runs in state history and capped an undefeated season with a win over Woodinville for the state championship. This time, it was Woodinville with the unblemished record and top seed.
But with a first-year coach, a deep starting lineup and Peyton Howard’s clutch plays late, the Bears upset Woodinville for a 59-55 victory on Saturday in the Tacoma Dome to win their third state championship in the past five years.
“I mean – we never had a doubt we’d lose,” said Howard, the Seattle University signee who scored 18 points with six rebounds and 12-for-17 shooting from the free-throw line.
“We just never gave up. We just worked so hard and it all worked out.”
But it took everything Central Valley (23-3) – which didn’t even win its league title, finishing behind Mt. Spokane – could throw at Woodinville (28-1) to stave off the Falcons and their star junior post, Mia Hughes.
Hughes scored a game-high 28 points and had nine rebounds and rallied Woodinville back from what was once a 40-24 deficit in the second half. Her bucket with 1:16 remaining cut that Central Valley lead to 53-50 before a turnover got the Falcons the ball back.
Hughes go the ball on the right wing, drove and kicked to a wide-open Brooke Beresford for what would have been the game-tying 3-pointer. It was just off, though, and Howard followed with four free throws the following two possessions to push the lead back to 56-50.
This was one year after Howard missed her junior season with a torn ACL and Central Valley lost to Bellarmine Prep in the state quarterfinals.
“We want the ball in her hands,” said Central Valley’s first-year coach Felice Orrell. “She’s been focused the entire tournament. Senior and she didn’t want to go home without the gold ball. She’s such a competitive kid and has such a fighting spirit. And she showed that tonight.
But it certainly wasn’t just Howard. Chloe Williams answered almost every Woodinville run with a key play and scored a team-high 20 points and MJ Bruno added 15 points.
“All season we’ve had that quiet confidence and we got to work and they bought into everything I was feeding them,” Orrell said. “We have multiple kids who can lead us. Who are you going to stop? It just worked so well for us.”
WHAT MADE THE DIFFERENCE?
Woodinville usually only runs about six players deep, and that cost them in a first half that was littered with fouls. Their standout sophomore, Tatum Thompson, basically sat the entire first half because she picked up two fouls in the first quarter and her third foul quickly in the second. Beresford also had three fouls, leaving Woodinville coach Scott Bullock in a bit of a scramble mode.
“We got in foul trouble and we’re not a deep team,” he said. “Tatum is someone who can create and she has a really nice jumper and she’s long and athletic. If we had another Tatum on the bench we would have been fine.”
Then Thompson and Beresford picked up their fourth fouls midway through the third and Bullock gambled and played them, anyway.
It payed off, with Woodinville erasing a 16-point deficit to pull within two points with 7.6 seconds to play.
Peyton Howard had lived at the free-throw line, but she missed both her free throws with 7.6 seconds to play, with Woodinville trailing 57-55.
But both Tatum Thompson and Veronica Sheffey had already fouled out for the Falcons. And Central Valley’s Grace Geldien corralled the offensive rebound on Howard’s second miss, then made both of her free throws and secured the win.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Mia Hughes, Woodinville
The Falcons lost, but not for lack of determination from Hughes, who followed her 34-point performance in the quarterfinals and 23-point effort in the semis with 28 points and nine rebounds. She almost seemingly single-handedly carried the Falcons back into the game after once trailing by 16 points. And she scored six consecutive baskets for Woodinville to end the first half and keep it within striking distance.
“Mia kept us in the game,” Bullock said. “In the second half you could see the look in her eye. She even took a 3 today and I don’t normally want her taking that shot. But she was going to do anything she could go get this team to a win. I love that girl. I love her. And I get her one more year.”
Peyton Howard was asked how different last year’s Central Valley squad would have been had she not torn her ACL.
“We could have done a lot more,” said the Seattle University signee.
Follow TJ Cotterill on Twitter @TJCotterill.