ELLENSBURG – West Valley rode suffocating defense and the 14-point, nine-rebound performance of Erin Higbee back to the state tournament Friday, toppling Ellensburg 36-19 in the State 2A Regional at Central Washington University’s Nicholson Pavilion.
The win was West Valley’s second in four days against a Central Washington Athletic Conference team. The Eagles knocked out Selah in a play-in game on Tuesday.
West Valley advances to the state tournament next week at the Yakima Valley SunDome. Its first-round game will be Thursday afternoon against an opponent to be determined at Sunday’s tournament draw at WIAA headquarters in Renton.
It’s West Valley’s first trip since the WIAA changed the tournament format in 2011. The Eagles finished third in 2010.
The Eagles (19-6) held the Bulldogs to 22 percent field goal shooting – 9 of 40.
That was the perfect tonic for coach Lorin Carlon’s concern about Ellensburg’s balanced offense.
“We were concerned about their two big girls and 24 (Trew Tucker),” Carlon said. “Aaliyah (Ashley-Meek) always takes the other team’s best player and tonight she had 24. We told her not to let her get shots from the 3-point area.
“I told our kids we would make the rest of them beat us.”
Ashley-Meek, the hero of Tuesday’s win over Selah, followed her coach’s instructions to the letter. Tucker was 0 of 7 from 3-point range and finished without a point.
Both teams struggled offensively for most of the first half. The score was tied at 4 after one period and it wasn’t until Kelcie Russell from Ellensburg and Natalie Noble for the Eagles found the range that the combined score threatened 20 for the half.
Russell had two layups for the Bulldogs and Noble hit a deep 3-pointer and a pair of free throws for the Eagles to unlock the offenses.
Carlon wasn’t concerned with his team’s early struggles. He figured the issues would resolve themselves.
“We had wings who weren’t getting open for shots and a couple plays we usually run well that wouldn’t work,” he said. “Once we got them out of the man defense, we were OK.”
West Valley created some breathing room in the third period with a 12-4 run. Higby had two baskets on putbacks – eight of her points came that way – and lightning-quick Jenae Martin had a pair of baskets.