Columbia High meets Montesano tonight at Centralia High School in a winner-to-state, loser-out game of the Southwest Washington Class 1A girls basketball district tournament.
The Bruins (12-9) kept their state tournament bid alive last Saturday by eliminating the Onalaska Loggers 44-40 in Centralia.
A victory tonight will send Columbia--which before last Thursday hadn't played a district game in 10 years--to its first state tournament since 1993.
Should it beat Montesano, Columbia will play a seeding game on Saturday in Kelso against Ilwaco or Kalama. The winner of that game will go to state in Yakima as the district's No. 3 team; the loser will be the No. 4 team.
Montesano (9-13), which upset Ilwaco 50-44 in first-round action last Thursday, is coming off a 55-21 loss to Forks last Saturday.
"We're excited to still be playing, but we're not taking anything for granted," said Bruins Coach Mike Yarnell. "It's a district game, and as everybody knows, anything can happen at district."
Last Saturday, the Bruins got off to a good start--something Yarnell hopes they'll do tonight against Montesano.
Columbia took a 13-8 first-quarter lead and extended that to 27-15 by halftime. Its advantage after three quarters stood at 10 points (37-27).
"We were pretty much in control the whole game," Yarnell noted.
Midway through the fourth quarter, however, CHS lost three players to fouls (junior Ericka Ziegler and seniors Jenny Pulido and Kelsey Kidd) and, down the stretch, Onalaska closed the gap, pulling within three points with 14 seconds to go, thanks to a pair of 3-pointers and three free throws by Amber Durand.
But Columbia got a free throw from senior Chelan Weiler with 10 seconds remaining to go up by four points "and we hung on from there," Yarnell said.
With Weiler hindered by a sore left knee--the result of a fall during CHS's tourney opener against Toledo--Ziegler, sophomore Lacey Kruse and Kidd took up the slack.
Ziegler finished with 13 points, nine rebounds and four steals, Kruse "had a huge game" with 11 points and nine rebounds, and Kidd contributed nine points (including "two big buckets in the fourth quarter" when CHS was outscored 13-7) and 11 rebounds.
"It was just a complete team effort," Yarnell said. "These girls just keep amazing me; they just keep going. And here we are, one win away from going to state."
Toledo 55, Columbia High 31:
The Bruins had no answer defensively for the Indians' Rachel Wallace.
Toledo's only senior scored 23 points to lead the top-seeded Indians to a first-round victory over the fourth-seeded Bruins last Thursday at Centralia High School.
Wallace was particularly tough in the first half when she scored 17 points to help Toledo (18-3) build a 33-18 halftime bulge.
The game itself turned in Toledo's favor in the first quarter. The Indians put together a 12-2 run in the last 3:35 of the period that increased their lead to 15-6.
Columbia's only lead of the night came at the 4:25 mark of the opening quarter when senior Chelan Weiler made two free throws that gave the Bruins a shortlived 4-3 edge.
Weiler led Columbia (11-9) with 10 points but injured her left knee late in the second quarter. The injury occurred when she came down hard under the CHS basket after scoring a layin that cut Toledo's lead to 30-14.
Weiler walked off the court under own power but had to be assisted to the locker room at halftime. She did not play in the second half; instead, she watched from the bleachers behind the CHS bench, with an ice bag on her injured knee.
Without their floor leader, the Bruins struggled to run their offense against Toledo's 2-3 zone defense.
Their only points of the period--during which the Indians outscored them 15-2--came on a putback by junior Ericka Ziegler.
When the third quarter ended six minutes later, Toledo held a commanding 48-20 lead.
A key difference in the game was free-throw shooting.
Toledo converted 20-of-28 opportunities from the foul line, including 13 of 20 in the first half, while Columbia got to the line for eight attempts (all in the first half) and made four.
Columbia's biggest scoring run of the game was six points. It started after Toledo scored off an inbounds play to take a 19-6 lead.
The Bruins countered with a basket by Weiler, two free throws by senior Jenny Pulido, and a scoring drive by Weiler that pulled CHS within 19-12.
But Toledo answered in kind, running off 11 straight points--seven by Wallace--to push its lead to double digits at 30-12.
This season's 12 wins are the most by a CHS girls basketball team since 1996. The 1996 team won 13 games; its 13th victory came in the first round of the Class 1A district tournament.
Columbia High boasts a 39-31 record (.557 winning percentage) in 21 Class 1A district tournament appearances.
Two CHS teams won district championships (1984 and 1992) and six others earned state tournament berths (1976, '77, '81, '85, '91 and '93).
The 1976 and 1977 teams posted back-to-back fifth-place finishes; to date, those are White Salmon's only state trophies in girls basketball.