YAKIMA — The champion of this year’s Class 1A girls Hardwood Classic won’t be crowned until Saturday afternoon, but Taylor Stephens already is predicting it will be the Cashmere Bulldogs.
“That’s a state championship team,” said Stephens, La Center’s sophomore guard. “I hope they win; they’re a great team.”
The Wildcats were Cashmere’s first test of the tournament in Thursday’s 1A state quarterfinals. The Bulldogs took out La Center, 60-28, on its quest for a perfect season.
The loss sends La Center (23-2) to Friday’s 9 a.m. consolation game against Bellevue Christian, which fell 58-33 to an Okanogan team led by Gonzaga signee Jill Townsend. Caribou Trail League rivals Cashmere and Okanogan face off for the fifth time in Friday’s 3:45 p.m. semifinal for a spot in Saturday title game.
A La Center win Friday over Bellevue Christian guarantees a state-trophy game Saturday. It would be the program’s first since placing eighth in 2006.
Cashmere (24-0) showed every bit why it is 1A’s top-ranked team and the WIAA’s top-seeded RPI team for 1A girls against La Center. The Bulldogs dominated all facets — 16 offensive rebounds, 26 points off turnovers, and 12 steals to name a few — and led 22-0 after one quarter.
By halftime, the lead was 34-8. La Center’s scoring drought ended in the second quarter on a Stephens free throw at the 6:56 mark, and Bethany Whitten’s bucket at the midway point accounted for the team’s lone first-half field goal.
The early deficit felt like a slap in the face for Stephens, who finished with a team-best nine points. La Center ran the table not only in the 1A Trico League, but also an undefeated regular-season before its first loss to Lynden Christian at last weekend’s regional. Its largest margin of victory this season was 58 points.
Coach Herm VanWeerdhuizen said he hopes Thursday’s loss also is a lesson on how to prepare over the entire season to be competitive with elite teams, such as Cashmere.
“You can’t do that in one day or two days,” he said.
La Center outscored Cashmere, 11-9, in the third quarter, and a lot of that was Stephens’ doing. She had seven of her nine points in that eight-minute stretch, including buckets on consecutive possessions that made it 40-15.
“It was too late by the time that happened,” Stephens said. “We needed that in the first half.”
Molly Edwards added seven points and six rebounds, and Taylor Mills and Bethany Whitten had six points apiece to round out La Center’s scoring.
Freshman Hailey Van Lith led Cashmere with 17 points, and Lewis-Clark State signee Abbie Johnson had a double-double of 12 points and 11 rebounds, and five assists.
CASHMERE 60, LA CENTER 28
LA CENTER — Whitley Seter 0, Molly Edwards 7, Bethany Whitten 6, Taylor Mills 6, Taylor Stephens 9, Nyah Mertz 0, Laynie Erickson 0, Alyssa McKnight 0, Natasha Lewis 0, Auryn Powers 0, Adison Rose 0, Mia Edwards 0. Totals 10 (1) 7-10 26
CASHMERE — Haley Van Lith 17, Jade Jaspers 0, Cami Knishka 13, Sydnee Mongeon 9, Abbie Johnson 12, Molly Thies 7, Grace Hammond 2, Claire High 0, Grace High 0, Chloe Diaz 0. Totals 22 (7) 9-11 60
La Center 0 8 11 9 — 28
Cashmere 22 12 9 17 — 60