KELSO — A classic duel of state-ranked teams lacked only the ending that Montesano’s girls desired.
Unbeaten La Center put on a dazzling display of long-range shooting in the fourth quarter to successfully defend its District IV Class 1A girls basketball championship by nipping Monte, 66-64, on Saturday night at Kelso.
Although denied their second district championship in the past three years, the Bulldogs (19-4) will have the consolation of knowing they have a minimum of two more games ahead — including at least one at state.
Seeded into the double-elimination bracket by virtue of their high state RPI ranking, they will travel to Wenatchee to take on Okanogan at 4 p.m. Saturday at Wenatchee High School.
Regardless of that outcome, they are guaranteed an appearance in the state 1A tournament the following week at the Yakima SunDome — their first since 1999.
Despite coming up short in a thrill-packed district final that lived up to its advance billing, the Bulldogs had the satisfaction of putting together a quality performance against a quality opponent.
Senior post Jordan Spradlin was typically towering in the middle, finishing with 25 points and 18 rebounds. Montesano’s perimeter game was also formidable as Josie Toyra, Shayla Floch, Cheyann Bartlett and Hannah Quinn combined for nine 3-point baskets. Toyra, who knocked down four treys, scored 15 points while Floch added 13.
Monte also reacted well to adversity, nearly overcoming a seven-point deficit in the final three minutes.
In the end, however, La Center (22-0) committed fewer turnovers (11, compared to Monte’s 16) and boasted a few more weapons. All five Wildcats starters scored in double figures, led by 6-2 post Taylor Mills’ 20 points.
“It was a battle back and forth,” Montesano coach Julie Graves summarized. “It was a game of runs and they finished with one more basket than we did. I thought the kids competed hard, I’m proud of all six of my seniors.”
Up by as many as seven early in the second quarter, the Bulldogs led for the bulk of the first three quarters.
But Bethany Whitten’s 3-pointer to open the fourth quarter gave the Wildcats an advantage (at 49-48) they never relinquished.
That was the first of four LaCenter three-balls — with Molly Edwards, Taylor Stephens and Whitten again providing the others — in the first four minutes of the fourth quarter. Although Bartlett and Floch had threes of their own, the Bulldogs were unable to keep pace.
La Center led 64-57 with 2:42 remaining. But with Floch nailing another three, the Bulldogs came scrapping back.
Monte twice closed to within two, the last time when Spradlin made one of two free throws with 32 seconds on the clock.
Having committed only three team fouls to that point, the Bulldogs spent the next 20 seconds playing the foul game in an effort to eventually put the Wildcats on the line.
After the sixth foul, however, Bartlett stole the ball and attempted to go coast to coast. Going full tilt, she was unable to make a contested lay-up drop and the rebound resulted in a tie-up, with the possession arrow pointing in La Center’s direction.
Stephens, fouled at 0:04, missed the front end of the one-and-one, with Spradlin rebounding. Floch’s half-court heave at the buzzer thudded off the backboard wide of the mark.
Six of Montesano’s turnovers came in the second quarter and prevented the Bulldogs from building a bigger halftime lead.
At that, Spradlin and Quinn combined for the opening seven points of the quarter and a short-lived 23-16 lead. The Wildcats trimmed the halftime deficit to 32-30. In an oddity, the Bulldogs scored exactly 16 points in each quarter.
Bartlett handed out seven assists. Floch was cited for her defense on Stephens, La Center’s leading scorer for the season.
Absorbing considerable contact in the paint, Spradlin wrenched her shoulder and briefly left the game after the ball was stripped from her at an awkward angle in the second quarter. The senior standout also came up wincing after tumbling to the court in the fourth quarter, but pronounced herself fine afterward.
La Center was still engaged in an elaborate net-cutting ceremony that even involved its cheerleaders as the Bulldogs were preparing to leave the gym. This could become a habit. The Wildcats have only one senior, that a reserve, on their roster.
La Center 16 14 16 20 — 66 Montesano 16 16 16 16 — 64
La Center (66) — Seter 10, Edwards 13, Whitten 10, Mills 20, Stephens 11, Erickson 2. FG — 27-55 (.491). FT — 4-9.
Montesano (64) — Bartlett 4, Talley 4, Toyra 15, Floch 13, Spradlin 25, Quinn 3. FG — 21-49 (.429). FT — 13-20.