Defending state champion? Check.
Runner-up, now top-ranked and undefeated? Check.
Drop-down team that bullied foes at the higher level? Check.
The waiting is over for area small-school basketball fans. Now they know what unsung team is joining the terrific trio in the State 2B girls basketball tournament semifinals.
As expected, La Salle, Napavine and Colfax rolled in the quarterfinals Thursday at the Arena. They are joined by White Pass, which earned its way in with a 62-51 win over Liberty.
Don’t expect the Cougars (22-5) to be intimidated tonight when they face Colfax (25-2) in the second semifinal, nor on Saturday if they make it through to play defending champion La Salle (20-4) or top-ranked Napavine (25-0).
“We’re not intimidated,” White Swan coach Tom Kelly said. “We’re not taking a back seat to anybody.”
Give the credit to the best little backcourt in the tournament.
Shaleesa Gillispie, a 5-foot-2 senior, scored 17 of her 21 points in the first quarter and 5-5 junior Mikel Elliott took over after that on her way to 25 points.
The first quarter was amazing as Gillispie hit five 3-pointers and a short jumper for a 21-9 lead.
“They kind of came out bombs away,” Liberty coach Aaron Fletcher said. “We were like a boxer against the ropes in the first round. After we got the cobwebs out, we were able to finish.”
Fletcher said he wasn’t expecting the Gillispie outburst, but he didn’t blame the media for misinformation. The tournament program lists Gillispie as averaging 4.8 points per game.
“That’s a typo,” Kelly said. “It should be 16. She can go off. She’s very capable of that. Maybe the typo was a good thing.”
Gillispie opened the second quarter with a layup, just to prove she could hit from inside the arc, for the biggest lead of the night. She then picked up her second and third fouls and had to sit for the final 4:16 of the half.
That wasn’t nearly as bad as getting her fourth foul less than three minutes into the third quarter, which made her a spectator until well into the final quarter.
“I take the blame for that, because I had to come out so much,” Gillespie said. “I feel bad. I’m horrible at rebounding. I always go over the back. After the first quarter it was hard to get in the groove. I’m proud of my teammates.”
At least she gets credit for trying, because the Cougars can’t survive without everyone hitting the boards, not with their tallest starter 5-5 and their tallest reserve 5-8.
Elliott did most of the damage. Her 3-pointer from the top of the key made it 35-22 with just more than 2 minutes left in the second quarter. But the Lancers closed the half with a 7-0 run and the game was on.
“I don’t know what happened,” Fletcher said. “That’s a good ballclub. I think we’re a good ballclub. We got ourselves in a hole early, which we’ve had a tendency to. I think if you go from 21-9 after the first quarter, we won the ballgame. It was an uphill battle all the way around.”
Credit goes to another little backcourt.
Liberty’s Taz Brooks, a 5-3 junior, had 22 points, almost all from the inside, and grabbed nine rebounds. Point guard Kelly Hennessey, also a 5-3 junior, added 15 points.
“I’m worn out,” Fletcher said. “I know my kids are. They played their guts out. They had opportunities to roll over and go on to tomorrow. I’m proud of them.”
Brooks had two free throws to open the second half, making it a four-point game. But the Lancers couldn’t get closer, although the Cougars never got away until finishing up at the foul line in the final minute. The last gasp was a Hennessey 3-pointer with 3:22 left to cut the margin to six.
The damage was done when Gillespie missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 3:13 left, but White Pass secured the offensive rebound. That led to Jetaime Mullins making the first of two free throws and another offensive board. Elliott cashed in with two more free throws.
White Pass made just 21 of 35 free throws, but the Lancers bricked their chances to cash in, making just 12 of 26 from the line.
“I would have liked it a little faster,” Kelly said. “That’s how we play. Our team’s in very good condition. We’ve won a lot of games by our conditioning, but we couldn’t wear them down.”