By Christopher Lawlor
NEW YORK – Finally Central Valley (Veradale, Wash.) is no longer a mystery. You ask, mystery?
Having never left the state of Washington this season and played just one team from out-of-state against Post Falls (Idaho) this season, the Bears were a bit of an unknown outside of the Pacific Northwest.
They are no longer a mystery and one step away from girls’ basketball immortality.
That’s because third-seeded Central Valley made quick work of Westlake (Atlanta, Ga.) on Friday afternoon. Leading by eight and 17 points in the opening half, the Bears coasted to a 70-57 victory over Westlake in the GEICO High School Nationals semifinals at Christ the King High School’s Father John Savage Memorial Gymnasium.
Central Valley converted 17 turnovers into 20 points and All-American Lexie Hull, a Stanford recruit (along with her twin Lacie), torched the Lions for 30 points, 13 rebounds and four steals. CV played unflappable even when Westlake fought back in the second half.
Westlake dug itself in an early hole and could not escape and that’s exactly what the Bears had hoped. Central Valley prides itself in valuing each possession, swinging the ball around the perimeter in a disciplined pace. They could race up and down the floor but did so under control.
Once the Lions were down by double-digits and CV’s 3-pointers started falling, the championship game was set.
The undefeated Bears, the two-time Washington Class 4A state champions, will play top-seeded Hamilton Heights Christian Academy (Chattanooga, Tenn.) in Saturday’s final that tips at 10 a.m. EDT on ESPN2. It is the second straight trip to the GEICO Nationals title game for the Tennesseans while the Bears are making their first.
Anastasia Warren kept the Lions alive, burying a trio of 3-pointers in the final four minutes but they could not draw any closer than 65-55.
CV absorbed Westlake’s comeback attempts and carried a 47-35 edge into the fourth quarter.
Warren netted a team-high 25 points and Taylor Hosendove added 17 points and nine rebounds in the loss. Westlake’s shooting touch abandoned them going 20 of 60 (33.3%)
Westlake was amped to open the third quarter cut the deficit to 43-33 at 3:31. The Bears never flinched and trading baskets was not the way to catch the Spokane area team.
Senior Hailey Christopher (14 points, seven rebounds) flung the final dagger of the opening half. With Westlake locking in on defense, the patient Bears worked for a late shot and it resulted in Christopher’s second trey of the quarter that gave CV an insurmountable 37-20 advantage at the interval.
Lexie Hull (17 points) and Christopher (eight) teamed for 25 points in the opening 16 minutes, outscoring the Lions. Hosendove, a Texas Tech signee, topped Westlake with nine but her team hit only 20% of their shots.
The Bears (28-0) were fueled by a 16-4 edge from points off turnovers.
Camryn Skaife (11 points) and Christopher opened the second quarter drilling 3-pointers over Westlake’s 2-3 zone and Lexie Hull found the gaps and suddenly the lead swelled to 16 points at 26-8 with 5:37 left.
Central Valley came out on fire and the Lions were flat. The Bears built double-digit leads before settling for a 16-8 lead as they hit 7 of 16 shots. Lexie Hull crushed the Atlanta school with 12 points, connecting on 5 of 9 and the Bears scored six points off turnovers.
Westlake (30-2) finished a state championship season, capturing Georgia’s Class AAAAAAA final. Coach Hilda Hankerson’s team was more than prepared for the program’s first visit to GEICO Nationals and the Georgia postseason when it played at the prestigious Naples (FL) Holiday Shootout in December, where it took second.
Now that Central Valley is in New York, second place is not an option. The Bears want to return home with the hardware.