WASHOUGAL – Save for two small details, Jordan Ryan was feeling just about perfect.
“I’m voiceless and deaf, but other than that I’m fine,” she said.
Voiceless because the Columbia River sophomore had helped command her team to a 50-45 win over Washougal in the first round of the Class 2A Southwest District girls basketball tournament Friday.
Deaf because River won inside of Washougal’s loud home gym. Leading 46-45, Ryan drove to the hoop, made the basket and was fouled.
“I couldn’t hear myself breathe,” she said.
Ryan made the free throw to put River ahead 49-45 with 30 seconds to play. It was one of many big shots needed for the Chieftains, which finished fifth in the 2A Greater St. Helens League, to knock off league champion Washougal.
Now River, which had to beat Tumwater in a play-in game to reach the tournament, is one win from state. The Chieftains (12-10) face Black Hills at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Mark Morris High School in Longview.
Washougal (16-5) plays a loser-out game against Hockinson on Tuesday. The Panthers must win three straight to reach state.
Friday’s win is a major highlight in a season of growth for Columbia River. The Chieftains scored just 20 points in their opener against La Center. Six weeks later, they lost to Washougal 55-26.
But throughout the struggles, the team was improving.
“We built confidence with every game we played,” junior guard Erin Baker said. “We started to work as a team. And once we start knocking down shots, every other shot is going in.”
River lost to Washougal 54-53 in the regular-season finale on Feb. 1. That game offered encouragement and clues for first-year coach Will Jones.
“I watched that game probably 15 times,” Jones said. “I was just trying to figure out all the little things.”
Among those little things were avoiding turnovers and defensive intensity. Reigning league MVP Beyonce Bea scored 24 points, but Washougal’s other players were held in check. Only three other scored, none more than 8 points.
“We knew we weren’t going to stop Beyonce,” Ryan said. “But we did the best we could to get out on all the 3-point shooters, get as many boards as we can and limit their shot attempts.”
River, meanwhile rode a balanced offense. Ryan scored 14, Baker had 13 and Katie Kolbe added 11.
“We’ve all come into this as one team instead just a few certain people,” Kolbe said. “We all trust each other now. We realized we can click and we can win.”
Washougal led 38-33 after three quarters. But Sydney Flores-Tucker scored five straight points to pull the Chieftains even.
From there, River’s poise was the deciding factor.
“It’s tough to beat a good team three times,” Washougal coach Brittney Knotts said. “We prepared, but in the end it feels like they executed and were ready for the end of the game. We played a little bit tight.”
Baker hit a 3-pointer to give River a 45-44 lead with 1:49 to play. Bea was fouled on the ensuing possession and made one of two three throws.
Ryan gave River the lead by making one of two free throws with 1:26 left. After a defensive stop on the other end, she found the ball in her hands inside the final minute.
“I told Jordan she had to get two feet in the paint, then figure it out,” Jones said. “That was kind of our gameplan. I feel like she’s one of the top-three players in this league. I told her, we’re going to ride you.”
Ryan drove past Bea, who was guarding her tightly at the top of the key. She converted a lay-up as she absorbed contact.
Ryan then hit a free throw that helped ring in her team’s biggest win of the season.
The ringing in her ears? Ryan wasn’t bothered.
“Finally, everything is clicking,” she said.
COLUMBIA RIVER 50, WASHOUGAL 45
COLUMBIA RIVER – Ellie Furth 0, Liz Canton 4, Lily Jonas 0, Sydney Flores-Tucker 7, Erin Baker 13, Katie Kolbe 11, Jordan Ryan 14, Ellie Christian 1. Totals 19 (5) 7-15 50.
WASHOUGAL – Kiara Cross 0, Maggie Hungerford 5, Beyonce Bea 24, McKinley Stotts 0, Grace Graham 0, Emilee Smart 0, Skylar Bea 8, Tiana Barnett 8. Totals 18 (2) 7-16 45.
Col. River 7 15 11 17—50
Washougal 13 11 14 7—45