Even though the State 1B basketball tournament was last week in Yakima, the Garfield-Palouse girls still considered themselves a defending state champion entering the State 2B tournament.
And it looked like the Vikings could maintain that claim for another day until Kelly Hennessey decided the 1B champs weren’t going to repeat in their return to Spokane.
The 5-foot-3 point guard took over in the fourth quarter to lift Liberty to a 46-41 win over Gar-Pal in a first-round game at the Arena Wednesday evening.
“We’ve been here for two years and haven’t won a game,” Hennessey said. “We decided we weren’t going to let it happen again. It was now or never.”
Liberty (19-9), which won a state tournament game for the first time since 1994 before a 12-year absence, plays White Pass in the 7:30 quarterfinal tonight. The Vikings (17-7) meet Orcas Island in a loser-out game at 12:30.
With the Lancers trailing 31-27, Hennessy fed Teara Cornmesser and Taz Brooks for baskets on the first two possessions of the fourth quarter to tie the game and then answered Carlee Deerkop’s 3-pointer with one of her own to start a decisive 10-0 run.
“Players make plays,” second-year Liberty coach Aaron Fletcher said. “She took us on her back and said let’s get this done.”
The surge was completed by a 3-pointer from Heather Kjack to make it 41-34 with 3:13 to play.
“That was huge for us,” Fletcher said.
The Vikings were down five when Hennessy, who finished with 20 points, double her average, drained a fourth 3, a shot from the left wing with the shot clock running down with less than 2 minutes to play.
During the 10-0 run the Vikings missed six shots, four free throws, including the front end of two 1-and-1s, and had two turnovers.
“Choked,” Gar-Pal coach Steve Swinney said. “They played way too tight. You just have to relax to play basketball. We’re state champs, but we only have one starter back and this is the first time most of these girls played significant minutes.”
The Vikings shot 50 percent in the first half in the first half but just 19 percent in the second.
“We didn’t execute like I expected,” Swinney said. “We didn’t execute like I expected. I’m shocked. We have good basketball players. Usually they’re cool, calm and collected.”
Tianna Woltering scored the last 10 Gar-Pal points of the first quarter, which ended with Liberty up 13-12 after Hennessey hit a 3, and had four more in the second when the Vikings took a 24-22 lead, but she was held to one free throw in the second half.
“Give credit to our defense,” Fletcher said. “In the two games we had to win to get to state we gave up 20 and 24 points. We’re not going to press, we sit back, mix it up and have zero uncontested shots.”
Cornmesser added 10 points for Liberty.
Fletcher said freshman Rachel Conklin, in her first varsity game, “did a lot of little things that aren’t in the box score, but I see them.”
After the Vikings stretched the lead to 28-22 early in the third quarter they only had two 3s in almost 10 minutes of play, getting outscored 19-6. Hennessey, who also had six steals, had eight points and two assists to account for the first 12 points.
“Midway through the second quarter during a free throw I told her to slow down, things will come to you and they did,” Fletcher said.
“I agree with him,” Hennessey said. “It was the first game at state. We all took a deep breath, slowed down and took good shots. It feels good. We’re excited. We’re ready to come back and do it again.”