In the somber silence of the Woodinville locker room, faint sounds of raucous cheering could be heard coming from the Eastlake side.
The Falcons grappled with the pain of lost opportunity. This regional playoff game was a costly one indeed. Woodinville entered the night as the state tourney’s #1 seed. They’d won twelve games in a row. But this 63-54 loss to an inspired Eastlake team forced the Falcons to face a more difficult path this week at the Tacoma Dome.
“Mostly it’s disappointing,” Woodinville coach Scott Bullock said. “We’ve played so well. But we came out early and just weren’t mentally ready to go. Credit to Eastlake, they played well.”
For Woodinville, things went sideways even before tipoff. During warmups, two starters made repeated trips to the bathroom, dealing with flu symptoms.
Once the game got underway, the dominant presence of Eastlake center Keeli Burton-Oliver was too much to handle. The Lady Wolves jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead. And by the mid third quarter, Eastlake had expanded that lead to 44-24. Burton-Oliver would go on to finish with 28 points.
“I would say for the first quarter and a half they beat us to every rebound,” Bullock said. “A couple possessions, they got two, three or four shots and put it in. We were slow to box out. They are bigger than us, so we can’t afford to do that.”
In the late third quarter, Woodinville fought back. The Falcons went on a 13-0 run, thanks to scrappy play by Mia Hughes, Veronica Sheffey and Katie Minnehan. Woodinville was now within eight points, at 44-36.
But Burton-Oliver and company reassumed control to put the game out of reach.
“They’re a good team and I knew they would be gunning for us, since the last game,” Falcon guard Veronica Sheffey said, in regards to Woodinville’s 73-59 win over Eastlake in the Kingco 4A Championship game on February 2.
“We came out flat and dug a hole for ourselves,” Bullock said. “Those things piled on top of each other, and Eastlake played well. We made a little run but we just didn’t have the gas today. I felt like we were pressing all night to make things happen. We didn’t play our best basketball.”
With the win, Eastlake (19-6) secured a prized first-round bye in this week’s tourney. Meanwhile, Woodinville (23-3) will play Sunnyside (21-2) on Wednesday night at 9PM at the Tacoma Dome.
Had Woodinville beaten Eastlake, they would have secured the first-round bye. This would have provided a favorable path in the brackets to reach the state championship game. But since they lost, it will now take three wins to do so. This includes the likely looming obstacle of the Kentridge Chargers (23-2).
Of course, this is nothing new for Woodinville. Just last year, the Falcons won three straight overtime games in the state tourney before falling to Spokane Valley in the finals.
But now this season takes on a different shape. The journey has taken a detour. The Falcons need to regroup and find that second wind.
“It's definitely the more difficult route, but it’s a route we’ve taken before,” Bullock said. “We’re glad to be alive. Glad to be in this tournament. [We will] try to enjoy it and take it one game at a time.”
Veronica Sheffey, a freshman who is mature beyond her years, spoke calmly about the trip to Tacoma.
“I know this is going to help us in the long run,” Sheffey said. “We’ve worked really hard all season so I know we can get it back.”