YAKIMA — For three quarters, La Center played like it wasn’t fazed by its myriad injuries. It was effective against a tough press, and for much of the game looked like the better team in a low-scoring slugfest.
For three quarters.
The Wildcats fell 45-31 to Medical Lake in the 1A state quarterfinals in the Yakima Valley SunDome on Thursday after it was outscored 23-3 in the fourth quarter it entered leading by six.
And the Wildcats, who averaged 63 points per game entering the matchup, fell victim to its own slew of injuries. Forward Taylor Mills played with a sprained ankle. Shooting guard Molly Edwards—who a day prior suffered a separated shoulder in a torching of Freeman (she had 22 points, seven 3s)—did not play.
Medical attendants taped up her right shoulder before the game, she suited up and participated in shoot-around prior to tipoff, but the pain did not subside. She played after suffering the same injury in her other shoulder last season, but this time was different, she said.
La Center missed her 3-point shooting sorely. And more-so, they missed her rotation minutes.
Each La Center starter played at least 28 minutes—four played over 30.
“We just kind of ran out of gas. We led the first three quarters, and you could see, we were dead,” Wildcats guard Taylor Stephens said. “It tired everyone out. No one got a break. That’s where you could see us slowing down.”
Moreover, the Wildcats saw a caliber of team they did not see much of during the regular season.
“They just have good ball movement and good pressure,” guard Bethany Whitten said, “and aside from La Salle, we haven’t really had that much, so it’s hard for us to all of a sudden have pressure on us.”
The one resounding positive?
“We felt like our defense was good,” Whitten said, “we just couldn’t capitalize on offense. When we got it past half court we weren’t hitting the shots. Molly yesterday saved us hitting the shots and without that today nobody got hot.”
Up 28-22 going into the fourth, La Center saw Medical Lake mount a 17-0 run to start the final quarter. The Wildcats coughed the ball up before the half court line to Medical Lake’s full-court press, and when they did get past half court, they couldn’t convert shots.
Taylor Stephens hit a step-back 3 to stop the run, but by that time, down 22 with 1:31 left, the damage was done.
Stephens led the Wildcats with 13 points. Taylor Mills grabbed nine rebounds, as did Alyssa McKnight. Whitley Seter pulled down eight boards.
La Center fell short of its goal of winning the program’s first state championship. It drops to the consolation bracket where it will play Lakeside (Nine Mile Falls) on Friday at 12:15 p.m. Edwards, who VanWeerdhuizen considered a “game time decision on Thursday, is “doubtful” to play Friday, he said, alluding to the possibility of going deeper into his bench.
“We’ll be alright,” VanWeerdhuizen said. “We’ve got to go get ‘em. The younger ones may have to step up a bit.”
The Wildcats are disappointed. But they are treating the loss like their loss to La Salle in the regional round, which they dubbed their worst game of the season, then rebounded by blowing out Freeman.
Said Mills: “Hopefully we’ll pick it up next game. I know we will. I’m really proud of my team.”
MEDICAL LAKE 45, LA CENTER 31
LA CENTER—Alyssa McKnight 3, Whitley Seter 4, Bethany Whitten 6, Taylor Mills 5, Taylor Stephens 13, Mia Edwards 0, Natasha Lewis 0. Totals 10-44 (4-17) 7-12 31.
MEDICAL LAKE—Jayda Noble 6, Makayla Geiger 8, Jaycee Oliver 4, Jaxyn Farmen 3, Lexie Redell 15, Emily Munson 6, Allison Duncan 0, Jessie Lohman 3, Ellie Acord 0. Totals 14-54 (5-22) 12-21 45.
La Center 13 6 9 3—31
Medical Lake 9 9 4 23—45