MONTESANO — A bit of pressure and tension was present at Bo Griffith Gym on Tuesday and Montesano’s girls basketball team felt it.
Some of the pressure came from a peaking Hoquiam squad, but some of it was the prospect of a regional and state tournament berth on the outcome of this District IV 1A semifinal contest.
After three quarters, Montesano took a slim eight-point lead, drained some momentum-grabbing perimeter shots and ran away with the game, 67-44, past its Evergreen 1A League rival Hoquiam.
The win for the Bulldogs (19-3) secured a spot in the district title game against La Center on Saturday in Kelso (tip off at 7:30 p.m.), as well as a regional berth and an automatic spot into the state 1A tournament via their No. 5 spot in the WIAA 1A RPI rankings. The top-eight RPI teams earn a berth into the state tournament, even if they lose in the regional round next weekend.
“There was some tension, not exactly pressure and stress, but tension there,” said Montesano senior Jordan Spradlin, who led all scorers with 40 points and 16 rebounds. “We were a little bit tight. We put a little bit too much into our own minds. Now, it is a crazy feeling. We’ve played together since the fourth grade. Now that we’re there, this is the most meaningful to do it — to get our state berth here.”
“There was a lot on the line tonight,” said Montesano head coach Julie Graves, whose team clinched its first state tournament berth since 1999. “It was a combination of things, along with Hoquiam playing better, tonight. We talked about not overestimating anyone yesterday and it was a battle tonight. The kids knew if they win, there was a guaranteed game in the SunDome. That was a long-time goal for all of the seniors and it is a reality now.”
For three quarters of this game, Hoquiam decided to defensively make Monte’s guards and perimeter shooters work, while pressuring and double-teaming Spradlin in the paint. It worked well enough, even though the Bulldogs never led by less than 3 points in the second half, before Monte used a 25-9 fourth quarter to pull away.
“Listen, no one in the league has an answer for Spradlin,” Hoquiam head coach Mark Maxfield said. “We picked our poison and we did a heck of a job on their outside shooters. But yeah, Spradlin is a great player and I was very happy for how well we played.”
Spradlin’s work in the paint was showcased in the first half. Scoring 12 of Monte’s 16 points in the first quarter, Spradlin fought through double- and triple-team defenses from Hoquiam for baskets and free-throw attempts. In the second quarter, Spradlin kicked the ball out to her teammates, but still got her work in for 18 first-half points.
Hoquiam worked itself into the game after a slow start with a variety of offensive tools. Izzy Hernandez worked inside the paint and on the perimeter with Kylee Bagwell and mid-range shots from Casey Mode and Brandi Parson powered the Grizzlies’ offense.
Montesano stretched out to an 11-point lead behind Spradlin and Shayla Floch field goals at 24-13, but Hoquiam climbed back to within four with defensive stops and a run of baskets from Karlie Krohn at 29-25 at the half.
“We had nothing to lose tonight, everything to gain and the pressure was on Monte,” Maxfield added. “The girls were ready to play and I knew that when I walked into the locker room before the game.”
Floch’s driving baskets for Monte in the third quarter bracketed a Spradlin run against a collapsing Hoquiam defense. Other than a Cheyann Bartlett free throw in the middle of the quarter, Spradlin scored nine points — on 7-of-8 free throws and an inside basket.
The Bulldogs’ defense also slowed down the Grizzlies, helping to extend the lead to 43-35 after three quarters. Floch’s last-second basket would be the finish of the quarter and a momentum starter for the fourth.
“We just had to keep playing smart, find the person who was open,” Graves said. “Hoquiam is playing really well. They’re peaking at the right time. It was a different game than 11 days ago (a 72-27 win). Shayla’s basket at the end of the third was key and we went on a pretty good run there. We just got after it, got stops on defense and that relaxed us a bit.”
Quinn and Bartlett drained back-to-back treys to force a 30-second Hoquiam timeout at 49-35, 40 seconds in the fourth quarter. Spradlin came back with six straight points and Josie Toyra knocked down a 3-pointer for a 15-0 run and a 58-35 lead with 5 minutes remaining.
That was it. The Montesano seniors, playing in their final game in their home gym, got ovations from the crowd and high-fives afterward to mark the state-clinching occasion.
“Now that we know we’re going to state, we can play our game now,” Spradlin added. “Saturday should be a fun game. We’re all looking forward to it.”
For Hoquiam on Thursday, the Grizzlies will take on King’s Way Christian at Centralia in a loser-out contest.
Hoquiam 13 12 10 9 — 44 Montesano 16 13 14 24 — 67
Hoquiam (44) — Cox, Mode 4, Jump 2, Hernandez 12, Parson 4, Krohn 9, Bagwell 4, Vonhof 6, German 3. FG — 18-50. FT — 7-13.
Montesano (67) — Grandstrom, Ekerson, Hutchings 2, Quinn 7, Grubb, Bartlett 6, Lovell, Talley 1, Toyra 3, Perkinson, Floch 8, Spradlin 40. FG — 24-53. FT — 16-24.