At the beginning of the season, Washougal sported a largely revamped roster, a new coach and a standout player — Beyonce Bea — to serve as the cast for its lofty goals of winning another league title, and clinching its third consecutive berth to state.
The Panthers had the reigning 2A Greater St. Helens League MVP in Bea. But they also needed some new faces to step up, too.
So it was fitting that on Thursday, Feb. 1, when Washougal was named league champion after defeating an energetic, fiery Columbia River 54-53 (and with a little help from Hockinson), it was that same anchor’s supporting cast that shined bright.
Ashley Gibbons had 13 points, and Skylar Bea — Beyonce’s freshman sister — scored 12 and grabbed key defensive rebounds to help Washougal come from behind and stave off the Chieftains.
They have been among those who stepped into the starting lineup to fill the void left in the offseason departures of Mason Oberg and Toryi Midland-both standouts at Washougal last season who transferred to Union and are key contributors for the Titans.
An oft-double-teamed Beyonce Bea scored 13 points, seven of those coming at the foul line, where she was a mainstay in the fourth quarter.
For the Panthers, the win represented more than a league title-clinch.
They were playing out of a slump.
Washougal won 12 straight games coming into this week, and appeared poised to run the table in league play. But it stumbled at Mark Morris, as the Monarchs doubled Beyonce Bea, left the 3-point line open and the Panthers just couldn’t buy a shot.
So when River presented a similar defensive strategy on Thursday, complete with traps and confusing defensive schemes, Washougal hit its shots.
“They double-teamed Beyonce,” Skylar Bea said. “And they pressed us and we weren’t ready for it, we had to try and work around that.”
Ashley Gibbons hit three 3-pointers in the third quarter — four total — as a part of a high-scoring third quarter.
At the end of the day, everything still ran through reigning league MVP Beyonce Bea, who would draw in defenders and kick the ball out to open guard like Gibbons.
“Whether she’s scoring or not, she’s still our leader — when I say ‘not’ that’s like 15 points for her — she knows what’s expected,” head coach Britney Knotts said. “She’s fighting through that leadership role and staying positive and not getting down on herself, because she’s a 16-year old at the end of the day.”
But Beyonce has noticed the way her teammates have stepped up.
“Especially Skylar,” she said of her freshman sister. “She’s filled in that rebounding role for us this year and is able to finish around the hoop. Then our guards being able to step up and hit some 3s to fill Mason’s spot is really helpful for us.”
Said Skylar: “Everybody contributes equally, it helps us.”
Against Columbia River, Skylar Bea guarded Chieftains’ standout Jordan Ryan, who had 16 points at half, and at times verged on the border of un-guardable. But Skylar’s tough defense helped hold Ryan to six points in the second half — she finished with 21 — and she contested a potential game-winning jump shot by Ryan with less than five seconds left.
When the Panthers lost in Longview, they hoped it was a fluke. Beyonce thought the Panthers played pretty well, despite losing by 13.
“They made us shoot outside and we couldn’t hit a shot,” Knotts said. “Our defense looked good all game and offensively we couldn’t convert.”
Washougal clinched at least a share of the 2A GSHL league title with the win, leaving open the possibility of Mark Morris, who was a game behind, winning out and the Panthers dropping their final game of league play. But with Hockinson beating the Monarchs less than an hour after the Panthers’ game ended, Washougal finished the night league champs again.
“It feels really good,” Beyonce said.