With all due respect to the classic 1976 film about a team of misfit Little Leaguers, the “Bad News Bears” have nothing on the Montesano Bulldogs girls basketball team.
Montesano was the recipient of nothing but bad news on Friday leading up to tip-off of a key 1A Evergreen League game against the Tenino Beavers, with a chance to clinch a league title for Monte on the line.
But the “Bad News” Bulldogs overcame all obstacles en route to a 51-43 victory on their home court.
The first bit of ominous news came Friday morning when starting guard Mikayla Stanfield was sidelined due to a positive COVID test.
Things went from bad to worse for Montesano (16-1 overall, 8-0 1A Evergreen) just before the start of the game when leading scorer and all-state candidate junior forward McKynnlie Dalan crumpled to the ground with a knee injury during warm-ups and had to be carried off the court.
“Everyone’s energy just dropped and we weren’t sure how the game would come to be,” said Montesano starting point guard Jaiden King on the team’s immediate reaction to Dalan’s injury. “But we pulled together. Last year we didn’t have her and we just thought that we could do it with her having our back.”
Dalan, who missed all of last season with a back injury, had been red-hot as of late, averaging 24 points per game over Monte’s previous four contests entering Friday’s matchup.
“I think we were all a little bit in shock. You don’t expect that and all of a sudden you look up during warm-ups and she is laying on the ground,” Montesano head coach Mark Mansfield said of Dalan’s injury. “We talked about that we’ve been down this road before. … We’ve talked a lot before (Dalan’s injury) happened that you never know when your number gets called and you just got to be ready to step up and play as hard as you can.”
That is precisely what Montesano did.
The Bulldogs weathered through an understandably shaky first few minutes of the game and ended the first quarter tied at 13-13 on a buzzer-beating shot from the post by Montesano’s other all-state candidate, senior Paige Lisherness.
Tied at 15 early in the second quarter, Montesano would go on a run to seize the first substantial lead of the contest. A Jordan Karr 3-pointer kicked off a 9-2 run that culminated with a King jumper to give Monte a 24-17 lead with 1:50 left in the first half.
But Tenino standout senior center Ashley Schow scored four straight points to close out the half with Monte up by only three at 24-21.
Tenino (14-5, 5-2) took the lead early in the third quarter on back-to-back buckets in the post by senior Alivia Hunter, who scored six points in the period.
A pair of King free throws with 47 seconds left on the clock brought Monte to within a point at 34-33 entering the fourth quarter.
Over the final eight minutes, Monte showed why it’s ranked No. 4 in the state by the Associated Press.
After the two teams traded buckets to open the period — with King feeding Lisherness with a perfect bounce pass on a cut to the basket followed by a score in the paint by Schow — the Bulldogs went on a 7-0 run capped by Montesano center Addie Winter hustling for an offensive rebound and getting fouled on a play that brought the Montesano crowd to its feet.
Winter converted the second of two free throws to put Monte up 42-36 with 4:38 to go.
After Schow hit a three, Lisherness did what she does best — scoring her sixth point in the paint of the quarter to put Monte up 44-39 with 4:10 left.
Just over 1:30 later, Hunter hit a jumper to cut Monte’s lead to a bucket at 44-41 with 2:35 remaining.
On the ensuing possession, King got around her defender for a drive and layup that set off another eruption from the Montesano faithful.
With 1:47 left to go, Winter found Vanna Prom open on the perimeter. The junior guard put the game away with a dagger long-range jumper to put Monte up 48-41.
King hit a pair of free throws with just under 30 seconds left for a 50-41 lead to secure the Montesano victory, which gave the Bulldogs the league championship and No. 1 seed entering the 2B District 4 Tournament.
Montesano was led by King, who scored a sparkling 19 points in a multitude of ways, whether it be from long-range, attacking the basket or at the charity stripe.
Lisherness was her usual competitive, reliable self, scoring 18 points — mostly from the painted area — while anchoring the middle of the Bulldogs defense.
Mansfield noted that several players stepped up their game in the absence of Dalan and Stanfield.
“The nice thing is we have a lot of interchangeable parts,” he said. “They are all there for each other. They pick each other up and are just going to play hard.”
Maia Young had seven points for Montesano while Winter provided a spark in the second half with four rebounds and two steals.
“With McKynnlie being such a big factor for our team, we each knew we had to step up, individually,” said King, who knows the feeling after sitting out three weeks earlier this season with a broken nose. “With all of us doing that we were able to push through and get the big win.”
King said winning the league title “feels really good” and exhibits the team’s resiliency.
“I feel like we work hard at practice every day and it paid off,” she said.
That sentiment was shown as the final buzzer went off. After the Bulldogs celebrated for a brief moment on the court, the team headed straight to Dalan, who was sitting on the end of the bench with her injured knee elevated, to celebrate the victory with their teammate.
“We feel like we have a lot of experience and we don’t panic when things have gone against us,” Mansfield said. “We’ve been telling them, ‘You know, we’re pretty good.’ Hopefully, they are believing it and they know it’s not just one person. All of us pulling together is better than just one and they showed that tonight.”