Go ahead and add the defending Class 2A state champions to the list of girls basketball programs W.F. West High School has stumped this season.
Behind their typical balanced attack, the top-ranked Bearcats held off a late surge to top Lynden, 56-43, in the state regionals Friday at Tumwater High School, securing a first-round bye in next week’s state tournament.
“We just kept our composure,” point guard Kiara Steen said. “Everybody works really hard and has each other’s back.”
W.F. West returns o the Yakima Valley SunDome next week needing to string together just three more wins to secure its second state title in program history.
The Bearcats won their first and only title in 2014, but have played in trophy games six of the past seven years.
“They’ll be fired up over there,” W.F. West coach Tom Kelly said.
The Bearcats (22-2) have plenty to play for after seeing their title hopes dashed a season ago — by Lynden.
The Lions pulled out a narrow win over W.F. West in the semifinals last March. The Bearcats did what they could to return the favor Friday, making Lynden’s run toward a repeat that much harder.
Lynden (17-8) still advances to play in Yakima next week, too, but the Lions play a loser-out game on the opening day Wednesday.
“Lynden is a younger team (this year), but they have some tradition there — big time,” Kelly said.
That longstanding tradition of tough playoff teams that Lynden produces gave the Bearcats plenty to worry about Friday.
After the Bearcats built a comfortable margin in the third quarter, leading by as many as 19, the Lions came stroming back.
Paced by Livia Tjoelker’s team-high 10 points, Lynden went on a run late in the second half, cutting the lead back to single digits on a Natalie Amos basket with six minutes, 25 seconds to play.
The Bearcats held the Lions off late, but the 13-point win was the closest margin of victory W.F. West has had against a 2A team this season.
W.F. West’s only losses are to teams in higher classifications. The Bearcats were edged by Camas (4A) and Prairie (3A) earlier this season, by five points in each game.
Both of those programs are regional qualifiers in their classifications, and guaranteed appearances in the Tacoma Dome.
In the 18 games the Bearcats have played against teams in 2A this season, they have built an average margin of victory of 45.8 points.
“I think our defensive intensity and our ability to push the ball is the reason you’ve seen those blowout scores,” Kelly said. “We have to get back to that.”
The Bearcats’ pressure was successful in spurts against Lynden, causing 26 turnovers which led to several transition buckets.
Julia Johnson led the Bearcats with 15 points, while Steen and Erika Brumfield each added 11.
W.F. West opens play in Yakima at 2 p.m. Thursday against an opponent that has yet to be determined.
NO. 1 W.F. WEST
L – Tjoelker 10, VanderYacht 2, Smith 7, Hershey 3, Holleman 6, VanderHaak 8, Amos 7
WFW – Vadala 5, Johnson 15, Bennett 3, Brumfield 11, Steen 11, Waring 2, McCallum 9