By Meg Wochnick, Columbian staff writer
YAKIMA — Experience matters.
A fourth-place finish at the state tournament this time a year ago and a plethora of players with pressure-stake familiarity at the Yakima Valley SunDome made for the Washougal Panthers playing what coach Brian Oberg described as relaxed, poised, and their brand of basketball to open this year’s Class 2A girls Hardwood Classic.
“You could tell they were a little bit rattled,” Oberg said.
The “they” Oberg referred wasn’t his Panthers following a 52-36 victory Wednesday; it was East Valley of Yakima, a team that has a 34-15 all-time win-loss mark as the Class 2A state tournament at a venue 10 minutes from the high school’s campus.
That hometown hospitality favored the Panthers, though, who advance to face Burlington-Edison in Thursday’s 2A state quarterfinal at 3:45 p.m. behind Beyonce Bea’s double-double and two other players reaching double figures.
By no means was the first half by 2A Greater St. Helens League champions perfect, but it was close. The Panthers (17-6) shot 58 percent over the first 16 minutes, had a double-digit lead midway through the first quarter and grabbed their first 20-point lead inside 2 minutes to go in the second.
By the time halftime arrived, Washougal’s lead was 30-16, and held the Red Devils to 14 percent shooting. All three first-half field goals came from Kaleigh Denton; the rest of her teammates went 0-for-18, including an EV scoreless drought that lasted 8 minutes. They finished at 23.5 percent for the game, and got no closer than a 13-point deficit.
Credit Washougal’s defense for all of that.
“It’s always there for us,” said senior Lindsey Thomas. “Sometimes, our offensive shots aren’t falling, but we always rely on our defense. Go play defense, and the rest will come.”
Beyonce Bea led Washougal with 12 points, 11 rebounds and four steals, and Tiana Barnett and Mason Oberg had 10 points apiece. With East Valley’s defensive efforts focused on the Panthers’ top-two scorers — Bea, the 2A GSHL MVP, and Oberg, the Panthers’ freshman point guard — Washougal showed its more than a two-dimensional team.
Barnett, Thomas and Toryi Midland combined for 22 points, and buckets by Thomas and Midland were part of a 9-2 scoring run to open the third quarter for a 39-16 lead. Midland also had four blocks.
And the big-time play from the role players brought a smile to Mason Oberg’s face.
“Once their shots are going, everyone gets a lot more confident,” said Oberg, who also had five assists. “Sooner or later, everyone else is shooting really well.”