YAKIMA — While the rest of her W.F. West teammates had an early shootaround and their pregame fast-food ritual for lunch, Julie Spencer sang at her father’s funeral.
The emotional roller coaster of a day for Spencer ended triumphantly at the Yakima Valley SunDome on Saturday night in the Class 2A girls state championship game, an ending too perfect for a Hollywood script.
Just hours after grieving at her father’s service, she turned in a performance to remember on the court – a game-high 20 points and seven rebounds while earning tournament MVP honors – to help the Bearcats claim their first state title in girls basketball with a 48-37 victory over Mark Morris in a rematch of last year’s state final.
Moments after cutting down her portion of the net in the midst of postgame celebrations with her teammates, the 6-foot-2 junior spoke about what she called one of the hardest days of her life and “going from one extreme situation to another.”
“I just had faith in God and I knew my dad would be looking over me and praying for me,” Spencer said. “And I wasn’t just playing for myself, I was playing for my dad, and it came out good.”
A day earlier following the Bearcats’ semifinal win over Lynden, Spencer traveled back to Lewis County by car to be with her family in preparation for James Spencer’s service at 11 a.m. Saturday in Toledo. James Spencer died Feb. 13 after a nearly year-long battle with cancer.
To make sure she arrived in
time for Saturday’s 5 p.m. tipoff, Kenmore Air flew Spencer, along with three of her siblings, in an eight-seat aircraft from Lewis County to Yakima and arrived 90 minute before game time.
She was in the Bearcats’ starting lineup and scored nine of the team’s first 23 points as the W.F. West raced to its largest lead of the first half, 23-15, with 2 minutes, 32 seconds remaining in the second quarter.
“To have that emotion rain down on her and then come out and play her heart out on this court is just amazing,” said senior Nike McClure, who finished with five points, 13 rebounds and two blocked shots. “(Julie) is such an amazing person.”
Saturday was the sixth time in two years the two top-ranked teams in Class 2A have faced off, with the Bearcats winning the past two games, including the 2A District IV title game two weeks ago. Mark Morris topped W.F. West, 60-45, in their nonleague game in December, as well as 56-44 in overtime during last year’s 2A state final.
But the district title-game win was a big booster for the state final rematch, said McClure, who joined Spencer on the all-tournament team. Point guard Tori Weeks (eight points, six rebounds) was on the all-tournament second team.
“It showed us that they’re not invincible,” said McClure, The Olympian’s All-Area Player of the Year who is bound for Washington State. “We were scared of something we can beat.”
Like they did in the 53-47 district title win over the Monarchs, the Bearcats (25-2) did it with defense, despite committing 19 turnovers compared with eight for Mark Morris. They held the Monarchs to 21.1 percent shooting and their second-lowest point total of the season. The Eaton twins – Kourtney and Karley – combined for 23 of the Monarchs’ points.
The much-larger Bearcats, with three starters taller than 6-foot-2, held a 49-30 advantage in rebounding with four players (McClure, Spencer, Weeks and Tiana Parker) having six or more rebounds, a statistic Mark Morris coach Steve Rooklidge couldn’t look past.
“Offensive rebounds and putbacks were a killer, just like the last time we played them,” Rooklidge said, “but what do you do when you’re a lot smaller?”
Known for its strong outside shooting, Mark Morris (24-3) cut the deficit to six points with 3:50 to go on Karley Eaton’s 3-pointer – one of just two the Monarchs hit in the game – but never got closer. Six of the final eight W.F. West points were scored at the free-throw line, where the Bearcats were 11-for-12.
“Unbelievable” is how Spencer and McClure described winning the program’s first state title in the Bearcats’ 10th trip to state dating to 1978.
“I think I’m still dreaming right now,” McClure said.Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473 firstname.lastname@example.org @MegWochnick theolympian.com/southsoundsports