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With game on line, T-O prevails

YAKIMA – When Tekoa-Oakesdale’s Nighthawks most needed success at the free-throw line, they found it.

The Nighthawks clinched their first state tournament berth in seven years Friday night, stunning Sunnyside Christian in its own backyard, 50-44, in a 1B Regional at Eisenhower High School.

The Nighthawks advance to the State 1B tournament next week at the Spokane Arena. It is Tekoa-Oakesdale’s first trip to state since the 2006-07 season.

Also, the Nighthawks avenged a regional-round loss to the Knights in 2013. The loss ends a 15-year state tournament streak for Sunnyside Christian.

After hitting 5 of 6 free throws in the first 30 minutes T-O missed their next two – both on the front of one-and-ones. But Olivia Pakootas and Mattie Jo Johnson hit 3 of 4 in the final 12 seconds to close out the win.

“Phew,” a weary Nighthawks coach Dan Brown said after sharing a celebratory kiss with his wife, Brandy, who coached the Nighthawks to state volleyball titles in 2011, 2012 and 2013. “We were a little bit nervous at the start but we hung with them until we could relax.”

Johnson was a force for the Nighthawks, hitting seven field goals, all in the paint, and finishing with 15 points. The silky-smooth Pakootas backed her up with 14 points, hitting 5 of 8 field-goal attempts, mostly from along the baseline.

The Nighthawks knew they would have their hands full with Sunnyside Christian standout Stormee Van Belle. She scored 15 points, right at her average, but was harassed into missing seven of her final eight shots. The key was the Nighthawks holding double-digit scorer Katelyn Banks to just six points on 2-of-12 shooting.

Another key was the Nighthawks’ perimeter defense. T-O held the Knights to 2-of-18 shooting from behind the arc.

T-O looked tentative early, turning the ball over 16 times in the first 16 minutes but managed to stay within two points, 22-20, at halftime.

After the Knights opened up a 32-27 lead with 2:38 remaining in the third period – at the time the largest lead by either squad – the Nighthawks began to make things happen.

T-O went on a 16-5 run to open up a six-point lead of its own with 4:41 left. The closest the Knights could get after that was three points.

“We tried to get our best free-throw shooters in our four up at the end,” Brown said. “We’ve been off and on with that all year but we were on at the end.”