The Choker women didn’t need any help in earning a return trip to the playoffs.
Riding the momentum of a dominant first quarter, Grays Harbor College nailed down a postseason berth with a 74-50 drubbing of Centralia in an NWAC Western Division women’s basketball finalé on Wednesday night at the GHC gym.
Centralia came out on the winning end of a 105-88 shootout in the men’s contest.
The Choker women (8-6, 13-13) needed a win or a Highline loss to Tacoma on Wednesday to clinch the division’s fourth and final place in the NWAC tournament.
As it developed, Highline fell to Tacoma, 65-45. But the Chokers — winners of six of their last seven — made that outcome academic in earning their second straight playoff berth.
The NWAC tournament will be contested under a revised format this year. The 16-team single-elimination tournament will be contested on two successive weekends in Everett. The Chokers will draw a division champion in their opener March 11.
“The ladies played hard. They wanted this in moving the program forward,” GHC coach Chad Allan said.
WOMEN Chokers 74, Trailblazers 50
Alexia Thrower scored 26 points to pace the Chokers to the wire-to-wire victory. Grays Harbor’s two sophomores, Shauntel Efferson and Romey Begay, also played key roles in their final home appearances with 15 and 14 points, respectively.
Losers at Centralia, 91-55, earlier in the season, the Chokers emphatically turned the tables Wednesday night with a near-flawless opening quarter.
Efferson and Begay each hit 3-pointers in the opening three minutes to stake GHC to an 8-4 lead. Grays Harbor’s rapidly rotating man-to-man defense then held Centralia scoreless for nearly the remainder of the quarter (the Blazers finally broke the drought in the final three seconds of the period). Thrower, Efferson, Estelle Wilson and Monet Salazar, meanwhile, were combining on a 15-0 run that gave the Chokers a double-digit lead they never relinquished.
“The biggest difference was our defense in the second half of the season,” Allan noted. “We’ve been playing a great zone and I think it caught them off-guard playing man-to-man tonight.”
Grays Harbor also shot 52 percent from the field in the first half.
The Chokers weren’t quite as efficient offensively in the final three quarters. But each time the Blazers (11-3, 18-10) started a rally, Thrower provided a ready antidote.
Attacking the basket exceptionally well, the fluid freshman guard from Las Vegas made 9-of-11 field goal attempts, led GHC rebounders with nine, dished out four assists and even blocked four shots.
Down 35-19 at the half, Centralia cut the margin to 12 when Tamika Etherly and Kylie Smith scored the first two baskets of the third quarter.
Thrower responded by turning a long inbound pass into a conventional three-point play, then followed with a layin off a Wilson feed.
The Chokers led by as many as 25 in the fourth quarter.
Efferson and Lake Quinault High graduate Begay combined for seven treys. They were honored in pre-game sophomore night ceremonies.
Smith topped the Blazers with 13 points.
MEN Trailblazers 105, Chokers 88
Grays Harbor opened and closed out the scoring with dunks, courtesy of Malik Redmond and John Robinson.
The remainder of the contest, however, was dominated by Centralia’s long-range shooting. Although the Chokers switched constantly between man-to-man and zone defenses, the Blazers (3-11, 6-22) burned both by knocking down 14 treys in 29 attempts. That proved to be the difference, as the visitors outscored GHC 42-18 from beyond the arc.
“None of (the defenses) worked,” Grays Harbor coach Alonzo Cole grumbled. “We were slow afoot. The focus wasn’t there.”
The shot clock was seldom threatened in a frenetically paced affair. There were five ties and seven lead changes in the first 13 minutes, with the Chokers owning their final edge (29-28) on a Jacob Rainey tip-in. Centralia’s Joshua Broughton and D.J. Dorsey then began heating up from downtown, as the Blazers surged to a 51-42 halftime lead.
A 24-6 burst midway through the second half increased Centralia’s lead to 25 and the Blazers were up by at least 15 the rest of the way.
Former Timberline High standout Dorsey topped all scorers with 28 points, while Broughton and LaBrandon Price tallied 24 points apiece.
Robinson, 11-of-14 from the field, paced the Chokers with 25 points. Rainey tallied 20 points for Grays Harbor.
Those two, plus fellow sophomores Redmond, Keeandre Rowland and Kodi Leslie, closed out their GHC careers.
The Chokers concluded their season at 3-11 in league and 7-22 overall.
“I’d like to think we learned a lot of things this year,” Cole said. “I know I’ve learned some things about recruiting and what it takes to win at this level. It’s not always about the talent. It’s the will to win.”
Centralia 6 13 17 14 — 50 Grays Harbor 23 10 27 14 — 74
Centralia (50) — Etherly 6, Harris 3, White, Howard 1, Smith 13, Jones 9, Claybrooks 8, Hanohano 2, Kemble 6, Cole-Vogler 2. FG — 17-59 (.288). FT — 12-21.
Grays Harbor (74) — Begay 14, Thrower 26, Efferson 15, Brasher-Norwood, Brisbios 3, Wilson 7, Falealii, Sikora 3, Salazar 6. FG — 26-58 (.448). FT — 13-14.
Centralia (105) — Price 24, Curry 8, Broughton 24, Hannold 13, Dorsey 28, Harris 5, Simms, George 3. FG — 38-80 (.475). FT — 15-22.
Grays Harbor (88) — Rowland 14, Redmond 14, Rainey 20, Robinson 25, Leslie 2, Hayes 10, Phillips, Bean 3, Jenkins. FG — 39-77 (.506). FT — 4-11.
Halftime: Centralia 51, Grays Harbor 42.