By Christopher Lawlor
NEW YORK – For the basketball purists, there was sense of accomplishment. For all the girls’ high school teams that play in out-of-the-way places, where teammates attend kindergarten through secondary school, attend the same church and leave within a jump shot of each other, your team is Central Valley High School of Veradale, Wash.
Take well-deserved bow.
“We pretty much have known each since grade school, playing AAU together; we have great chemistry,” junior guard Camryn Scaife said.
The Bears showed old-school fundamentals and playing with a heart bigger than the state of Washington means something. For a team that did not leave the state of Washington the entire season, giving few an understanding or a gauge of where they stood in the national structure, you do now.
GEICO High School Nationals champions!
“It’s amazing, so surreal,” CV coach Fred Rehkow said.
The Bears from eastern Washington, within the Spokane media market, outpointed top-seeded Hamilton Heights Christian Academy, 66-61, Saturday morning in the championship game at Christ the King High School’s Father John Savage Memorial Gymnasium.
Veradale (pop. 9.837) is 12 miles from Spokane and the town’s pride are the Bears who are Class 4A state champions two of the last three seasons. No one would have thunk it.
No way any day. Not so fast.
“It was the perfect, a great journey and like coach said, very surreal,” said Lacie Hull, like twin sister are headed to Stanford.
The Bears finish 29-0 and earned street cred in the hoop community while HHCA (25-2), a team with two McDonald’s All Americans and at least seven Division I players on the roster lost for the second time in the final.
CV nearly coughed it up, though. That 10-point lead evaporated quickly in the third quarter and Hamilton Heights Christian took the lead early in the fourth. Lexie Hull nailed a 15-footer with 6:18 left and the Bears never trailed again.
There were dicey moments. CV went up by nine points with less than three minutes left. HHCA had a chance to tie it twice, including the final seconds. Jasmine Massengill scooped up a deflected inbounds pass and scored with 21.9 seconds left to make it 63-61. After a quick timeout by CV, Rehkow dug deep into his coaching playbook for a press breaker.
“It’s called Wizard and we’ve been working on it and hadn’t used. There was no sense holding on to it,” he said.
The inbounds went to Hailey Christopher, who dished off to Lexie Hull, who was fouled. Hull nailed two free throws to ice it.
Lexie Hull had 26 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and sank all 11 free throw attempts, Skaife had 14 points and Lacie Hull added nine. The Bears were 21 of 22 from the line for a sizzling 95.5 %.
HHCA’s Massengill had a game-high 32 points, five rebounds and six assists. Treasure Hunt had nine and Georgia Tech-bound Elizabeth Balogun added five.
“She’s capable of putting a team on her back and Jasmine did that today,” HHCA coach Keisha Hunt said of her McDonald’s All American who signed with the Tennessee Lady Vols.
Staring at a second straight loss in the GEICO final, the Lady Hawks ratcheted up the defense and pulled within 39-36 when Massengill threaded a pass to Esmery Martinez for a deuce midway into the third quarter. Skaife stayed sharp from three-point land, canning one in the opening moments for a brief nine-point edge.
HHCA had a horrific sequence with 2 ½ minutes to go in the third, missing a chippy layup, committing an offensive foul and unforced turnover. In spite of that spate of errors, the Lady Hawks rallied for a 43-41 lead. Massengill’s two free throws with 56.8 seconds snapped a 41-all tie.
HHCA had not led since the opening minute.
If some thought Central Valley’s quick start in the semifinals was an aberration, think again.
Tomekia Whitman’s running one-hander with 5.2 seconds left have the Bears a 36-26 edge at the intermission. The trademark perimeter based offense and scrappiness in the lane gave CV the 10-point bulge.
Lexie Hull had 13 points as the Bears were 11 of 22 from the field for 50%. Skaife’s trio of 3s accounted for her nine. Massengill kept the Lady Hawks afloat with 12 points but there was sparse contributions from her teammates.
The strong perimeter game provided an 18-14 lead heading into the second. The game was tied at 13 when Mady Simmelink sank a three from the left wing. HHCA’s Cardosa was effective on the offensive glass with five boards but could not convert consistently going 1 of 5 from close range.
Lexie Hull had seven points for the Bears, who made four 3-pointers.
The Bears were up 11-8 at the first media timeout as Skaife drilled a long 3-pointer. CV’s patient patterned offense was effective early against the taller Lady Hawks.
“People may not know this but were are a school of 60 students and about 20 girls. We have a hallway and a gym and that’s about it. Five years ago this program was ranked around 1,500th in the nation. We’ve come a long way as a team and a school. I cannot be more proud of these girls; we have no regrets.
“Today we put them [Central Valley] on the line too many times but I’m not ashamed of today’s performance like I was last year when we were complacent and out of it early,” Keisha Hunt added.