For the better part of three-plus quarters against La Center, the Montesano Bulldogs were carried by leading scorer and league MVP front-runner Paige Lisherness.
Late in a tie ballgame, with time winding down, the rest of the Bulldogs got into the act.
Montesano used an 11-2 run over the final two minutes of the game to advance to the 1A District 4 title game with a 56-50 victory Thursday in Montesano.
Tried as they did, the Bulldogs (11-2 overall) just couldn’t shake the Wildcats (4-2).
Montesano took three separate leads of at least seven points in the first three quarters, including a double-digit lead at 37-27 on a Maia Young breakaway layup with 3:51 left to go in the third quarter.
But in each instance, La Center wasted little time in climbing right back into the game. After Monte went up by 10, the Wildcats went on an 8-0 run to get to within two points before Jaiden King hit a shot to put Monte up 39-35 heading into the final quarter.
Montesano had been carried by Lisherness, who had 25 points in the game as a formidable presence in the paint and on the glass, but saw other players step up and make shots in the fourth quarter.
The Bulldogs took a 43-35 lead to open the frame on a King floating one-hander, followed by a set shot from freshman Mikayla Stanfield.
Again, La Center came right back. The Wildcats embarked on a 7-0 run, capped by back-to-back buckets from Gianna Demilio, who led La Center with 14 points.
Monte momentarily stopped the bleeding when Lisherness scored at the 4:10 mark. But the Wildcats tied the game at 45-all on a 3-pointer from Kylee Stephens.
La Center wasn’t done, taking a 47-45 lead — the first since early in the second quarter — when Alyse Webberley scored on a shot in the paint with 2:55 to go.
Rather than wilt under the pressure, Monte found another gear.
The Bulldogs scored 11 straight points over the final 2:12 of the game, regaining the lead when Stanfield scored and was fouled, followed by an offensive rebound on her missed free throw, allowing senior Zoee Lisherness to convert 1-of-2 free throws for a 49-47 lead.
King then scored on a drive and layup with 1:19 left and hit the front end of a 1-and-1 free throw opportunity with 41.4 seconds remaining. On her missed free throw, Montesano — which couldn’t buy a rebound at spurts in the third quarter — got a big one when Paige Lisherness muscled her way in for a putback, giving Monte a safe 54-47 lead with 38 seconds left.
Big sister Zoee put the finishing touches on the victory with a pair of free throws with nine seconds left.
“We stressed all season that we are better as a group and not as individuals,” Montesano head coach Mark Mansfield said. “We told the girls that everybody is capable and if you have a chance, that if they are open, we want them to take the shot.”
Mansfield added that he believes his team being in the pressure cooker of being down late in a game against a quality opponent — something Montesano has not faced much of this season — is a great learning experience, particularly how the Bulldogs responded.
“We knew (La Center) would be tough,” he said. “We told the girls, ‘We have to win games like this.’ This was a great experience. Hopefully, we’ll be better (in Saturday’s district-title game) because of this.”
In addition to Paige Lisherness’ 25 points, Monte got nine points from King, seven from Zoee Lisherness — including going 3-for-4 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter — and six apiece from Young and Stanfield, the latter scoring all six points in the final quarter.
“Mikayla — a freshman — no fear,” Mansfield said of Stanfield play that included a baseline jumper early in the fourth and a baseline layup and foul that regained the lead for the Bulldogs late in the game.
With the victory, Montesano will take on King’s Way Christian in the district championship game at 6 p.m. today in Vancouver.
“I couldn’t be prouder,” Mansfield said. “We’d get up and they’d come right back and they took the lead. It would have been real easy for us to fold right there. … It’s sort of been a theme through out the season that we have to be mentally tough and that was tested tonight. I felt we were sort of on the edge of panic, but we pulled out of it and righted the ship. We had a number of girls make good plays down the stretch.”
Raymond 69, South Bend 20
Raymond clinched the 2B Pacific League title and No. 1 seed heading into the district tournament with a victory over rival and host South Bend.
The Seagulls (10-1 overall, 2B Pacific) were led by all-state junior guard Kyra Gardner, who was one rebound away from another triple-double with 25 points, 10 steals, nine rebounds, four assists and two blocks.
Hannah Miller had a double-double for Raymond, scoring 12 points and grabbing a team high 14 rebounds.
Karyn Freeman (15 pts., 5 reb.), Grace Busenius (8 reb.) and Callie McVey (5 pts., 5 asst.) also had significant contributions in the Seagulls’ winning effort.
Raymond hit 22-of-40 shots (55%) from the field and went 13-for-21 (62%) from the free-throw line.
Willapa Valley 39, North River 21
Willapa Valley advanced to the 1B District 4 semifinals with a victory over host North River.
Chayse Coady led the way for Willapa Valley, recording a double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds as the Vikings opened up a 19-10 lead at the half and a 32-15 lead after three quarters.
Most of Coady’s points came in the second half after heeding the advice of Vikings head coach John Peterson.
“We talked at halftime and I told her that she’s got to get her feet set. She’s walking into every shot,” he said. “She came out and hit three threes right off the bat — two from the right wing and one from the left baseline. They called timeout and she came over and I said, ‘Look at that,’ and she said, ‘Wow! That worked pretty good.’ So I was happy for her.”
Cami Swartz also had a double-double for the Vikings with 11 points and 11 rebounds, and Ana Chavez added nine points for Willapa Valley.
Willapa Valley’s Hannah Hamilton continued her consecutive games streak of double-digit rebounds with 16 on Thursday. Over the past four games, the rebounding dynamo has pounded the glass for 61 rebounds, an average of 15.25 per game during that stretch.
“She’s the best 5-foot-6 rebounder I’ve ever seen,” Peterson said. “She’s a warrior.”
Willapa Valley (9-5 overall) will face favored Mossyrock on Monday for the district championship (time and location to be determined).
King’s Way Christian 69, Montesano 21
Montesano’s season came to an end with a loss to King’s Way Christian in a 1A District 4 semifinal game in Vancouver.
A depleted Bulldogs squad — without two of its leading scorers in Trace Ridgway and Caydon Lovell — had trouble matching up against the undefeated Knights (10-0 overall), falling behind 26-6 by the end of the first quarter.
Colby Adams scored 10 points to lead Montesano (5-7 overall).
Tyler Christian scored seven points and Camden Taylor and Mason Dineen scored two each.
Bryce Dodge had 23 to lead the Knights.
“They shot the ball well all the way throughout the game,” Monte head coach Doug Galloway said of KWC. “They have some fit kids and were able to get around us. … They put us in some difficult positions.”
Galloway reflected on what has been a uniquely difficult season for Monte, which was en route to an undefeated league season before COVID and injuries took their toll on the Bulldogs.
“I’m just proud of the kids. They kept working all year long and never stopped having a lot of heart and playing hard,” he said. “It didn’t finish way we wanted it to, but I’m glad we still got to play it and the seniors got to have a great final year.”
King’s Way Christian advances to take on Elma in the district championship game at 6 p.m. this evening in Elma.