It was a magical moment inside the Yakima Valley SunDome on March 2, as the Washougal Panthers girls basketball team won its school’s first state basketball title.
The Panthers huddled around their team leader, senior Beyonce Bea, who was raw with emotion as she raised the state championship trophy for everyone in the SunDome to see.
The crowd included Washougal parents as well as loyal Panthers fans who had come to Yakima ready to celebrate the biggest moment in Washougal High basketball history.
“It feels amazing,” Bea said after the Panthers’ 49-40 overtime win over East Valley, of Spokane, in the 2A Hardwood Classic on March 2. “There just can’t be anything better than this.”
The title was a crowning achievement for a group of girls who have worked relentlessly to fulfill their dream of bringing a state championship trophy to Washougal High School.
The Panthers played together as a team during their state tournament run, but when the championship game got tight, it was usually Beyonce Bea, the team’s senior bound for Division I basketball at the University of Idaho, who helped carry the Panthers to the win.
“I’m so thankful to be able to end my high school career on this note,” Beyonce Bea said. “It was awesome.”
The team’s senior guard, Kiara Cross, said the moment was surreal.
“I don’t even know how I feel right now,” Cross said. “(There are) so many emotions, but I’m so proud of this team.”
Washougal junior McKinley Stotts jumped up and down after the championship win, in sync with her teammates.
“We’ve never been state champs before,” Stotts said. “This is awesome.”
Crowd holds breath as Panthers go into overtime
It appeared the Panthers had won the championship in regulation after Cross finished a fast break to put Washougal up by three points with only seconds remaining in the game.
Then, with three seconds left, the Knights’ Faith Adams threw a 3-pointer that hit nothing but net, forcing the game into overtime.
The Washougal fans held their collective breath. But they didn’t have to hold it too long, as their team’s 6-foot-2 leader, Beyonce Bea, took control with ball-handling skills that could not be contained.
The Knights tried to stop Bea with a foul, but the Panthers pride themselves on their free-throw shooting. Beyonce Bea swished foul shot after foul shot, scoring 12 of her game-high 30 points in overtime.
“When they started fouling and we went to the free throw line, I knew we had it because we work on that and have been hitting them all season,” Beyonce Bea said.
The title game was an unusual deja vu for both teams as the Panthers and Knights had battled each other one week earlier during a regional seeding game in Spokane. The Panthers won that game 52-45, giving Washougal a first-round bye at Hardwood Classic.
“We knew (East Valley) would be tough,” Panthers head coach Britney Knotts said. “They are a really good team and really physical. We both had to grind it out.”
With the teams so familiar with each other’s offensive tendencies, defense dominated in the low-scoring affair. It was a fitting performance for Knotts, who made defense the program’s cornerstone when she took over as head coach last season.
“It’s what this program is built on,” Knotts said of the defense. “But, man, this is really special. This has been a goal since the beginning of the year. I’m really proud.”
Panthers set stage for state with series of wins
The Panthers’ road to the state championship started Feb. 28, with a 49-39 win over W.F. West, the defending 2A state champions. The Panthers had beat the Bearcats in their previous three meetings this season, including at the 2A District 4 championship game.
Washougal freshman Jaiden Bea, Beyonce Bea’s cousin, led all scorers in her first state tournament game with 18 points against W.F. West. Beyonce Bea finished that game with 12 points.
“Wow, really? I had 18 points?” Jaiden Bea said after the Feb. 28 game against the Bearcats. “We know Beyonce is going to get pressured because she is the star of the team, so we had to step up.”
Twenty-four hours later, the Panthers got off to a quick start against Clarkston when sophomore Skylar Bea, Beyonce Bea’s younger sister who specializes in rebounding and inside play, surprised the Bantams’ defense with two long-range 3-pointers that found the bottom of the net.
“I’ve been working on my outside shot all season,” Skylar Bea said. “At state, the stakes are higher, so I started shooting it.”
The scrappy Clarkston team fought back and kept the game close throughout the first half. Beyonce Bea took control of the game in the second half, though, leaving Clarkston with no choice but to foul. And, just as they would later in their title game, the Panthers made their free throws.
Beyonce Bea finished the game against Clarkston with 21 points, 15 rebounds, five assists and five steals.
“She’s the best high school player in the state because she pushes herself and her team harder than anyone else,” Knotts said of Beyonce Bea, the three-time Greater St. Helens League 2A Most Valuable Player (MVP).