ROCHESTER — Elma’s girls fell barely short in a dramatic run at a district championship.
Montesano found some resiliency in the face of an inspired Hoquiam upset bid.
All of which sets up this season’s third saga of the East County girls basketball rivalry — this time with a regional berth at stake.
La Center withstood a fourth-quarter Elma rally to successfully defend its District IV 1A girls basketball championship with a 54-50 title-game win over the Eagles on Wednesday night at Rochester.
Earlier, Glory Grubb’s 3-point basket keyed a run of six unanswered Montesano points in the final 90 seconds that produced a 44-42 win over Hoquiam in a loser-out contest.
While La Center (21-1) advances to regional competition next weekend, Elma (20-2) and Montesano (16-7) will collide in a winner-to-regional, loser-out game now set for 1 p.m. today at Hoquiam Square Garden. The East County rivals split their regular-season series.
Hoquiam concluded its season with a 10-13 record.
Wildcats 54, Eagles 50
Unaccustomed to playing from behind this season, Elma showed its mettle by nearly erasing a 13-point deficit in the fourth quarter.
Tall and quick La Center demonstrated its lethal inside-outside game to build a 49-36 lead over the turnover-prone Eagles at the end of three quarters.
But Eagle junior Molly Johnston sandwiched three field goals around a basket by teammate Kali Rambo to open the fourth quarter. Elma’s man-to-man defense, meanwhile, limited the Wildcats to two field goals in the final stanza.
When Jalyn Sackrider and Johnston — two forwards better known for their inside prowess — nailed back-to-back 3-pointers, the Eagles were suddenly within a point (51-50) with an ample 3:21 remaining.
After its defense provided a series of stops, Elma had opportunities to take the lead on the next three possessions, but was unable to convert. The Eagles, in fact, went scoreless the rest of the way.
Eventually, La Center’s Taylor Mills converted a feed from Bethany Whitten for a layin with 35 seconds remaining. Taylor Stephens made one of two free throws 11 seconds later to complete the scoring.
“The energy was there,” Elma coach Lisa Johnson summarized. “We played hard against a quality team. We couldn’t get over the hump.”
Making their first five shots, the Eagles shot 59 percent from the field in the first half and 43 percent for the game. Their defense was solid throughout, holding the Wildcats to 36 percent shooting.
Much of that good work was undone, however, by one statistic. The Eagles were guilty of 29 turnovers — 16 more than the Wildcats.
“When we slow down and get into half-court, sometimes we second-guess ourselves,” Johnson noted.
Stephens, La Center’s 6-foot-1 guard with a deadly outside shot, led all scorers with 19 points.
Elma’s Johnston scored 9 of her 13 points in the fourth quarter to pace the Eagles. She also grabbed nine rebounds, as did teammates Sackrider and Rambo.
Very effective inside early, the 6-2 Sackrider finished with 11 points and Rambo 10 for Elma.
Bulldogs 44, Grizzlies 42
Twice winners over Hoquiam in Evergreen 1A League play, Montesano’s Bulldogs were out of sync offensively against an improved Grizzly club in the third meeting.
Hurriedly missing a succession of close-in shots, they shot only 8 of 45 from the field even in erecting a 24-14 halftime lead.
“We had too many turnovers and we had some point-blank shots we didn’t convert,” Montesano coach Julie Graves said. “We played frantic.”
Thanks largely to the all-around contributions of senior forward Samantha Stanfield, Monte nevertheless increased its lead to 15 midway through the third quarter.
Then Hoquiam put on a press that, in the words of Grizzly coach Mark Maxfield, “changed the tempo of the game.”
Seemingly energized by some transition buckets and Rylee Vonhof’s strong inside play, the Grizzlies cut the deficit to eight (32-24) after three quarters. When they went on a 15-2 run midway through the fourth quarter, an upset appeared very much in the offing.
Senior stalwart Karlie Krohn hit from the right wing to put Hoquiam on top, 40-38, with 2:26 remaining and then followed with a long two-pointer from the opposite side that increased the margin to four with 1:52 on the clock.
Just when it seemed that they might be in full panic mode, however, the Bulldogs regrouped.
Sophomore post Zoe Hutchings connected from inside the key at 1:29 to cut the margin to two. Then Grubb, a valuable reserve throughout the season but scoreless at the time in this one, regained the lead for Montesano by burying a three-ball with 45 seconds on the clock.
The Grizzlies missed three shots at a go-ahead basket before Hutchings banked in the first of two free throws with 9.6 seconds remaining. Vonhof rebounded the missed second shot, but the Bulldogs were able to disrupt the final possession to the extent that the final HHS shot (a miss) was launched after the buzzer.
“We showed a lot of poise and maturity at the end of the game to be down by four and come back,” Graves said. “It’s a win and we’ve got to move forward.”
Stanfield was easily Monte’s MVP in this one, finishing with 11 points, eight rebounds and three assists. Lexi Lovell and Zoee Lisherness also garnered eight rebounds each.
Junior guard Maya Jump topped Hoquiam with 13 points. Krohn scored all 11 of her points in the second half.
“Other than not winning, I was absolutely proud of them,” said Maxfield, adding that his team peaked in postseason play. “I thought we had them on the ropes there.”
Hoquiam’s undoing was a 5-of-17 performance from the foul line. The Grizzlies actually made more field goals than the Bulldogs, but Monte had a 12-3 advantage from beyond the 3-point arc.
The Grizzly head coach thanked senior Krohn and assistant coach Denny Hinchen for their contributions.
Hoquiam 10 4 10 18 — 42
Montesano 14 10 8 12 — 44
Hoquiam (42) — Jade Cox 3, Jump 13, Krohn 11, Vonhof 9, German 4, Carlyle, Jordan Cox 2, Strom, Bagwell. FG — 18-64 (.281). FT — 5-17.
Montesano (44) — Granstrom, Hutchings 7, Stanfield 11, Lovell 9, Lisherness 7, Perkinson 5, Ekerson 2, Grubb 3. FG — 16-71 (.225). FT — 8-19.
Elma 15 13 8 14 — 50
La Center 18 13 18 8 — 54
Elma (50) — Sackrider 11, Johnson 1, Mikel 4, Johnston 13, Rambo 10, Bieker 7, Sutherby 2, Olson 2. FG — 21-49 (.429). FT — 4-10.