A six-hour van ride is a long time to prepare for a game, but the Washougal Panthers girls basketball team made good use of the extra time, arranging a short practice in the Tri-Cities along the way and bonding as a team all the way to their 2A regional seeding playoff game in Spokane, where they topped East Valley, the No. 2-ranked team, 52-45.
The Panthers arrived on Friday, Feb. 22, focused and ready, despite being 347 miles away from their always inspiring home crowd.
With the victory, the No. 7-ranked Panthers clinched a berth to the 2A Hardwood Classic, which will be held Thursday, Feb. 28, in Yakima.
The Panther girls basketball program has made the quarterfinals three times in the past four years, but trophy expectations are high this season.
“We played with a chip on our shoulder because we were not happy to have to travel all the way to Spokane for a regional seeding game, but our girls came ready and they are playing real well right now,” Washougal head coach Brittney Knotts said.
Washougal senior Beyonce Bea led the way with 22 points, but getting there wasn’t easy as Bea faced tough double teams through most of the game. The intense defensive effort took a toll on East Valley and Bea broke free late in the second half.
“They were a bigger, more experienced team. They’ve done really well at the state tournament the past few years. But we used our bench to wear them down,” Bea said of East Valley.
Bea’s younger sister, Skylar, hit a clutch 3-point play in the fourth quarter, followed by another 3-pointer by her first cousin, freshman Jaiden Bea, to kickstart the Panthers’ flurry of fourth-quarter scoring. The clutch shots were too much for the Knights as the Panthers took control late in the game and made clutch free throws to secure the win.
“The girls rode home with their parents but said they wished they could have rode back home in the van together. It was another great bonding experience, ” Knotts said.
Looking to the tournament at the Yakima Valley SunDome, the Panthers earned a first-round bye and will play the winner of the opening round game between Burlington-Edison and W.F. West, the team Washougal edged out to win the district tournament.
“We have to prepare for everything (such as) a lot of double teams on Beyonce, and we need to make sure we stick to what we’re good at,” Knotts said. “We bring lots of pressure on defense, because that’s what really drives our offense.”
Last season was Knotts’ first year coaching the Washougal program, and this season she said she is looking forward to the state tournament because, unlike last season, she knows what to expect.
“Last season, there were so many unknowns. But now I know what to expect and how to best prepare,” she said.
The team will look to Beyonce Bea as it makes a run for the state title, and the University of Idaho commit cherishes her role as team leader. With three freshman on the team, Bea has been preparing them, telling them what to expect and to never forget to soak in the experience.
“It can be a weird backdrop in the dome when you are shooting. But our team has really improved since the beginning of the season, and has shown mental toughness — something we struggled with in the past,” Bea said.
When it comes to mental toughness, Bea has been leading by example all season.
Now it’s crunch time.
“She’s got a big heart and wants to win and will fight with every ounce of energy she has,” Knotts said.
The Panthers’ first game at state is at 9 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 28, in Yakima.