TACOMA— It wasn’t the ending Woodinville had hoped for when the team took the court for the 4A Girls State Championship Game against Central Valley at the Tacoma Dome last night.
The Falcons were looking to finish out an undefeated season capped off with the title, but the team came up on the short end of a 59-55 score and had to settle for runner-up status to the Bears for the second time in the past three years.
“It was a fun finish, but not such a fun game. We struggled in the first half and got into some foul trouble,” Coach Scott Bullock said. “We’re not a deep team and the kids got rattled a little bit. Once we had our full line up back in the second half, I thought we made some good runs. We just dig ourselves too big of a hole we couldn’t get out of.
“We did have a good look at a 3 to tie it at the end — it was a good shot by Brooke (Beresford) — went right in the cup but didn’t fall through. It just wasn’t our day.”
Standout sophomore Tatum Thompson was whistled for three early fouls, including a technical foul that should’ve been charged to the bench for not checking into the game properly and had to ride the pine the majority of the first half and part of the third quarter.
“That was huge. Tatum is someone who can create — she’s long and athletic,” Bullock said. “If we had another Tatum on the bench it could’ve made the difference.”
Thompson fouled out midway through the fourth quarter and finished well below her scoring average with four points.
Woodinville put the first two points on the board and then exchanged baskets with Central Valley to make it 6-4 Falcons two minutes into the quarter. It was the last lead Woodinville would have in the contest.
The Bears then reeled off a 16-8 run to go up top, 22-12 with four minutes left in the second eight minutes of action.
Had it not been for Mia Hughes, who put the team on her shoulders, Woodinville would’ve been blown off the court by the break.
“Mia kept us in the game. Just before the half, she went on a 10-point spree herself,” Bullock said. “You could see the look in her eye that she was going to do anything she could to will her team to win. I love that girl — I’m glad I have her one more year.”
Her heroic effort gave the team a fighting chance, down 32-24 heading into the locker room at intermission.
Unfortunately, Hughes was unable to maintain the torrid pace in the third quarter and with no support from her teammates, the Falcons went scoreless over a five-minute period to find themselves down, 40-24.
Beresford ended the drought with back-to-back buckets, which sparked a much needed 9-2 run to give Woodinville hope of a come-from-behind win.
That hope was short-lived as Central Valley opened up a double-digit lead, 47-37 three minutes into the final quarter of action.
But the Falcons weren’t about to roll over and die. Two free throws and two buckets from Thompson, and an eight-point output from Hughes got Woodinville made it 53-50 with 1:16 left on the game clock and drew a deafening roar from the Falcons fans as they leaped out of their seats with a standing ovation following a quick Central Valley timeout.
Clamping down backcourt pressure, Thompson was whistled for her fifth foul and had to exit the game. That put the Bears Peyton Howard on the line for one plus the penalty. Howard sank both free throws to make it 55-50 Bears with 30 seconds to go.
Howard returned to the line moments later sinking one of two attempts to push the score to 56-50.
Desperately needing to cut the lead in half, Beresford let one fly from 3-point land with 20 ticks on the clock and was fouled on the attempt. She drained all three shots and Woodinville was still in it, 56-53.
Howard made two more trips to the charity stripe sandwiched between a Sheffey basket sinking two of four free throws to make it 58-55 with eight seconds left.
Woodinville got one last chance to tie it, but a long-range shot from Beresford rimmed out and Grace Geldien grabbed the rebound and was fouled. Geldien made one of two free throws with two seconds left to ice the game.
“We definitely left it all out there,” Hughes said. “The first half was a little rough — a lot to come back from especially in a high-pressure game like this.
“I did not think this team after losing the people we did last year would get anywhere close to the championship game. This was a tough loss — our first of the year — but we had a great season.”
Hughes finished with a game-high 28 points and a total of 85 points in the three games played at the Dome. She also eclipsed her WHS record leading point total for the second straight season with 643 points.
Point guard Veronica Sheffey had an off night but did manage to drop in 10 points before she fouled out late in the contest.
“It wasn’t her best game offensively, but she battled the whole way,” Bullock said. “Her shots just didn't drop for her. She was 2-of-14 from the field. On a normal day, she hits 6-of-14.”
Despite the disappointing outcome, the Falcons turned in one heck of a season with a very young roster.
“I knew I had a good group of kids that had a lot of talent potential — I just didn’t know how quickly they could come together,” Bullock said. “As the season went along, they just kept getting better and better. We were winning tough games — close games and beat some really good teams. We won 28 games in a row and it’s not like we were playing a light schedule.”
During the regular season, Woodinville beat 1A State Champion Lynden Christian, 3A runner-up Lake Washington, and 4A fourth-place finisher Issaquah. The Falcons beat Glacier Peak to claim the 4A Bi-District Championship, Rogers of Puyallup in Regional play, and then took down Todd Beamer who finished sixth at State and blew out Glacier Peak 63-41 in State semifinal action. The Grizzlies went on to claim third place in the tournament.
Woodinville will return some battle-tested players on next year’s squad but will have to find someone to step into the leadership role senior Jaela Eggers fulfilled.
“Jaela has been fantastic for us. She’s a phenomenal leader on and off the floor — all the girl’s lover her,” Bullock said. “We’re really going to miss her. She’s been huge for us. She was one of our captains. We wouldn’t have been here without her.”
Eggers will cherish the memorable moments she’s had in a Falcons uniform.
“As the only senior on the team, I wanted to make sure all the girls felt welcome — that we were a team that could work well on and off the court,” Eggers said. “I wanted to do the little things to help them grow as players and student-athletes.”
Eggers said she was proud of the way the young ladies handled the pressure and adversity they faced this year.
“This was an amazing season. Many didn’t expect this from such a young group of girls and we proved a lot of people wrong,” she said. “I told them after the game that this experience is about more than just getting a trophy. What we learned here and along the way the whole season is what defines us and that will make a big difference in our lives down the road.”
Even though the game goes down as a loss in the final standings, it was a total win for the Woodinville community as the teams’ success galvanized parents, students, WHS faculty and the casual onlooker alike.
Look for great things from the Falcons again next season.
“We have a great talented group of kids who are fun to coach,” Bullock said. “We’ll be back (at State)."