KELSO — Lock-down first-half defense enabled Elma’s girls to lock up a regional berth.
Limiting Hoquiam to one field goal in the first half, the Eagles withstood a Grizzly rally to earn a trip to regionals with a 54-45 victory in the District IV Class 1A Girls Basketball Tournament on Saturday at Kelso.
By sweeping their three-game series with Hoquiam, the Eagles (14-9) nabbed the district’s third and final regional slot — their first since 2011. They will face Zillah in a regional 1A contest scheduled for 4 p.m. Saturday at Davis High School in Yakima.
Elma has won eight of its last 10 games.
“Everybody stepped up today and played a good game,” said senior guard Peyton Elliott. “We started trusting each other (late in the season). We got to know each other better.”
Hoquiam concluded its campaign at 9-14.
Elliott topped the Eagles with 16 points and eight rebounds. Sophomore post Molly Johnston amassed a double-double with 13 points and 11 boards. Freshman forward Kali Rambo came off the bench to make a huge contribution with nine points (seven in the second half) and nine rebounds.
Senior wing Casey Mode took Hoquiam scoring honors by tallying all nine of her points in the fourth quarter.
In one respect, this was far from a typical Elma victory. The Eagles seldom resorted to the running, pressing game that is their trademark. Ironically, Hoquiam used that style more successfully in the second half.
Instead, Elma employed a clinging man-to-man half-court defense that seldom allowed the Grizzlies an open shot in the first half. The Grizzlies were only 1-of-16 from the floor in the half.
The Eagles didn’t shoot particularly well, either. But with a 48-28 rebounding bulge, they received plenty of second and third chances.
“Our press hasn’t been effective against them, for some reason,” Elma coach Lisa Johnson said. “But our half-court man was awesome. We knew we had to do the little things, like boards and tough D.”
“I think Elma really set the tempo and tone for the first half and had us on our heels,” Hoquiam coach Mark Maxfield agreed. “They played very aggressive man-to-man and we didn’t respond.”
Karlie Krohn’s jumper from the right wing gave Hoquiam a 3-2 lead in the opening two minutes. But the remainder of the half was an exercise in futility for the Grizzlies. They didn’t score again from the field until Krohn connected again at the 7:07 mark of the third quarter.
Elliott, meanwhile, scored nine points in the second quarter to pace Elma to a 24-8 halftime advantage.
By shifting to a zone press, the Grizzlies made things interesting in a highly physical second half that sometimes resembled a rugby scrum.
“We had to do something and it worked,” Maxfield related.
Forcing six turnovers in the third quarter, Hoquiam chopped the deficit to 30-24 on Brandi Parson’s layin with 20 seconds remaining in the period.
Even more alarming for the Eagles, starters Elliott, Johnston, Brooke Sutherby and Quin Mikel were all on the bench with four fouls apiece.
Rambo, however, answered the challenge by draining a 3-pointer to close out the third quarter. Her two free throws opening the fourth quarter bumped the margin back up to 11.
By the time the Grizzlies closed to within six again, barely one minute remained in the contest. Mikel, McKenzie Neary and Sutherby each made free throws in the final 63 seconds to keep the Eagles safe.
Elma spent most of the fourth quarter on the foul line, making 14-of-24 from the stripe in the final eight minutes. As it developed, none of Eagle starters fouled out, but Hoquiam’s Parson and Rylee Vonhof did.
The Grizzlies finished the season on an encouraging note. On the verge of not even qualifying for district in the final stages of the regular season, Hoquiam fell only one win shy of earning only its second post-district appearance since 2003.
Maxfield saluted seniors Mode, Parson and Izzy Hernandez and the Hoquiam school district for allowing the band to travel to district. Hernandez closed out her prep career by grabbing 14 rebounds.
“There isn’t a kid in the locker room that I wouldn’t take as a daughter,” he concluded.
Hoquiam 4 4 16 21 — 45 Elma 8 16 9 21 — 54
Hoquiam (45) — Mode 9, Hernandez 6, Parson 7, Krohn 7, Vonhof 2, Jade Cox, Jump 6, Bagwell 4, German 4. FG — 15-50 (.300). FT — 14-24.
Elma (54) — Elliott 16, Sutherby 9, Neary 5, Mikel 2, Johnston 11, Rambo 9, Olson, Johnson, Heller 2, Sackrider. FG — 16-56 (.286). FT — 19-38.