Last year at the State 2B tournament, the Liberty Lancers made a run to the championship game as something of an underdog.
That’s not at all the case this year at the Arena.
The top-seeded Lancers (25-1) rolled by the Northwest Christian Crusaders (19-11) for the third time this season, 64-44 in the semifinals on Friday, again advancing to the championship game.
They will face No. 2 seed La Conner at 5 p.m. Saturday with both teams looking for their first state title in girls basketball.
“It’s gonna be fun,” Liberty senior Aleena Cook said. “I think we’re ready. We’ve never been more ready.”
Senior Maisie Burnham scored a game-high 29 points, hit 11 of 15 shots, grabbed 10 rebounds and had five assists. But it wasn’t just Burnham who gave the Crusaders trouble.
“Everyone knows how good Burnham is,” NWC coach Geoff Tibbetts said, “but we feel like Cook is the engine that makes them rev really high.”
Cook hit 6 of 12 shots and scored 15 points, and her 14 rebounds were four fewer than the undersized Crusaders had as an entire team. Liberty had a 37-18 advantage in rebounding.
The 14th-seeded Crusaders kept within striking distance for about 2 1/2 quarters, trailing 26-17 at halftime and pulling within seven points (37-30) midway through the third.
But the Lancers responded with a 16-5 run, capped by freshman Ellie Denny’s second 3-pointer of the game. She and sophomore guard Ava Budde combined to shoot 4 of 5 from 3-point range.
“Very important,” Cook said of Budde and Denny. “They pull out the defense a lot. There’s no way we could do what we do in the paint without (those shots).”
NWC held its first two opponents at state to a combined 65 points on 22-of-86 shooting (25.6%), but it couldn’t slow the Lancers, who shot 24 of 40 (60%).
Liberty has won 19 consecutive games, including 11 straight by at least 19 points.
Last season, the Lancers reached the championship game as the No. 6 seed and lost to Tri-Cities Prep.
Cook injured her wrist 25 seconds into the game and didn’t play the rest of the way. The Lancers lost 50-42.
“Like we saw in the championship game, when we don’t have (Cook), we lose a lot of energy,” Liberty coach Chris Colvin said. “We lose rebounding, we lose defensive intensity. She’s a part of everything we do.”
La Conner 46, Wahkiakum 40: Freshman Ellie Marble scored 10 points and grabbed 15 rebounds, leading the Braves to their first State 2B championship game.
Marble hit 8 of 11 free-throw attempts, part of a 13-of-18 effort for La Conner (23-2), which fended off the third-seeded Mules’ late push.
Up by four heading into the fourth quarter, La Conner extended its lead to seven points (41-34) but couldn’t pull away. Wahkiakum junior guard Paige Mace scored six points around two Marble free throws, cutting the lead to three points (43-40) with 1:12 left.
But the Mules (20-5) didn’t score again. Mace finished with a game-high 20 points.