EVERETT — All Grays Harbor needed was a chance to take the lead after working hard to tie up Skagit Valley.
However, the Cardinals got the second, third and fourth chances when they needed them on Saturday night to prevent that.
After the Chokers tied up the game three times in the third quarter after trailing the entire contest, the Cardinals pulled away late for a 65-54 victory in the first round of the NWAC Women’s Basketball Tournament at Everett Community College.
It was a tough finish for Grays Harbor, which saw its season end at 13-14 with a second consecutive NWAC Tournament berth.
“Our team, we left it out there today,” GHC guard Alexia Thrower, who led the Chokers with 18 points, said. “It stinks we didn’t come out on top, but I just want to commend everyone for giving everything out there. They gave their all.”
Evenly played throughout, this contest was a game of runs. GHC spent its runs erasing deficits created by Skagit Valley’s runs and spurts.
The Cardinals opened the game with a 12-2 run, but the Chokers calmed down after a series of timeouts to climb back to a 21-17 deficit after one quarter. A balanced scoring attack from Estelle Wilson, Romey Begay, Thrower, Shauntel Efferson, Monet Salazar and Jaylin Brasher-Norwood drove GHC’s offense.
Both teams traded baskets in a slow-down second quarter, leading to a 31-29 halftime lead for the Cardinals. The Chokers had a chance to tie the game before halftime, but their final play was smothered.
“When (Skagit Valley) jumped out to that early lead, we had to change game plans,” GHC head coach Chad Allan said. “We did a good job of coming back and fighting back, but we never got that next stop or that next basket. We had spurts, but never sustained a run that we normally got into.”
The third quarter was an encouraging and frustrating time for GHC. First, the Chokers created their chances to tie up the Cardinals. Wilson’s steal and layup early in the third for a 33-33 tie. Later on, Katie Brisbios’ 3-pointer tied the game at 40-40, while Thrower’s drive to the basket tie it at 42-42 with 2 1/2 minutes left.
“I know if we had picked up the lead, it would have been the kickstart we needed,” Thrower added. “It would have kept us rolling. It was tough. It was a challenge out there.
While GHC worked to tie up the game, Skagit Valley used its chance to get offensive rebounds to maximize its possessions. Time and again, offensive rebounds gave the Cardinals two, three and four chances to score.
Overall, Skagit Valley outscored GHC, 20-2, in second-chance points and won the rebound battle, 55-27. The Cardinals nearly outrebounded the Chokers in offensive rebounds alone with 25.
The Cardinals’ Emily Yost pulled in five offensive rebounds in the third alone, grabbed 11 overall and finished with 20 rebounds to go with her game-high 19 points.
Yost, along with Adiya Jones-Smith, pulled Skagit Valley to a 49-45 lead after three.
“We were out of sync today and their tough defense and physicality contributed to that,” Allan said. “They were aggressive. Their offensive rebounding (hurt).
Wilson and Brasher-Norwood kept GHC close, getting to within 53-50 with 5 1/2 minutes remaining. Brasher-Norwood’s three-point play got GHC to within three, but this was the closest the Chokers would get for the rest of the game.
On offensive rebounds and defensive stops, the Cardinals rolled a 10-0 run in a 2 1/2 minute span for the game’s biggest lead, 63-50. The Chokers hit free throws in the final minutes to trim the final margin.
“We kept it close and within striking distance, but couldn’t find that magic,” Allan said. “I’m proud of all of the girls. Right now, we’re starting next year next week, between recruiting and all of the players wanting to come back and work.”
“Now, we’re going to get back into the gym and start work for next season,” Thrower said. “Everyone is feeling it and ready to get back to work. I’m excited about what we can do (next season).”
GHC 17 12 16 9 — 54
SKC 21 10 18 16 — 65
Grays Harbor College (54) — Brisbios 3, Begay 5, Wilson 6, Falealli 5, Thrower 18, Efferson 6, Sikora, Brasher-Norwood 9, Salazar 2. FG — 21-57. FT — 8-12.
Skagit Valley College (65) — Chau 7, Lancaster, Bryan 10, Miller 7, Piland, Hayes 2, Geffe 2, Yost 19, Ludwig, Hogan, Pillman 4, Jones-Smith 14. FG — 27-68. FT — 8-11.