St. George’s lost 10 of its first 16 girls basketball games this season with a starting lineup of three freshmen and two sophomores.
Seven weeks after seeing their record slip to 6-10, the Dragons are two victories away from a state championship.
Hailey Higashi hit 6 of 11 3-pointers and scored a game-high 21 points and fellow freshman Ceci Bergquist added 16 points and 8-for-8 shooting from the free-throw line Thursday as the Dragons (16-14) held off Morton-White Pass 50-42 to open the State 2B tournament at the Spokane Arena.
St. George’s will meet Northeast 2B rival Colfax (22-6) at 5:30 tonight in the tourney’s second semifinal. Another Northeast 2B team, Northwest Christian (27-1) will play Toutle Lake (24-0) at 3:45 p.m. to open the semifinal round.
Colfax is 2-0 against the Dragons this season but the last matchup, on Jan. 14, ended 39-36 when the Bulldogs scored the final three points.
“I respect their play,” Higashi said of Colfax. “They’re really good. … It’s going to be a really good battle and I’m just excited to play them.”
Fourth-year St. George’s coach Mark Rickard, who played for Republic’s 1997 State B championship team, said he knew his team would take time to develop.
“But every practice and every game our goal was to continue to trend upward and to make sure we’re playing our best basketball come playoff time,” Rickard said. “I’m most proud that these girls, in every chance we’ve had in an elimination round, have found a way to get it done.”
The Dragons built their largest lead, 36-25, late in the third quarter after Higashi hit two 3-pointers and Bergquist made two free throws.
The Timberwolves (19-6) rallied behind Whitney Elledge and Ashley Kelly. The senior guards, who combined for 32 points, sparked a 9-0 run that cut the St. George’s lead to two points early in the fourth quarter.
The teams traded baskets until MWP senior post Samantha Eveland scored with 2:40 left to trim the Dragons’ lead to 42-40.
“What I wanted then was composure,” Rickard said. “That’s a lot to ask of such a young team, but we had a lot of close games during the regular season and … they’ve been in those positions before.”
Rickard’s young players responded. Bergquist made a driving layup with 1:55 left, Higashi followed with her sixth 3-pointer after a MWP turnover, and sophomore Allison Hayes made 3 of 4 free throws in the final 43 seconds.
“I was just thinking I have to finish and make things happen because I want to see the semifinals,” Higashi said. “I want to keep moving on and growing as a team.”
The Dragons’ improvement was not lost on Colfax senior Nicole Sheer, who had the day’s best individual showing with 26 points, eight rebounds, four steals and three blocked shots.
“I think St. George’s has two very good guards,” Sheer said after her 12-for-20 shooting effort allowed Colfax to outscore La Conner 41-19 over the final 2 ½ quarters for a 49-28 win.