WENATCHEE — There was no doubt Cashmere and Omak girls basketball earned their seat at the 1A District 6 Championship table Friday night.
Cashmere and Omak are the sixth and eleventh ranked teams in the state, respectively, and hold a near identical overall record.
Three times this season they’ve met, and each time the Bulldogs have come out on top, except once. The first game was won by 18, but the next two were made much more competitive when the Pioneers narrowed the gap to just five points in each game and won one of them.
A strong first half from Cashmere, and second half from Omak made it a nail-biter, but clutch decisions, and free throws at the end lifted Cashmere to their ninth straight District Championship 53-44.
“That took five years off my life,” Cashmere Head Coach Brent Darnell said. “Our girls did a good job hanging on.”
Cashmere transitioned, and attacked the basket early despite Omak’s press. What kept the game close was Omak’s positioning, and footwork on defense, timing more than a few drives, and taking charges.
With a few more unforced errors on Cashmere’s part, and sharp-shooting from a couple players, the Pioneers took the lead for a brief period 7-4.
It didn’t last long. Multitudes of offense from various Bulldogs hit from deep, and off the drive. Cashmere went on a 9-0 run to finish the quarter 18-7.
“We did a great job handling their press,” Darnell said. “And we came out with a different defense to give them something they haven't seen.”
Cashmere continued through the next quarter, limiting good looks at the basket, pulling down rebounds, and transitioned quickly. Like when Allie McKenna pulled down an offensive board, found Ellie Bessonette behind the arc, and sank it 21-7.
It led them to a 33-9 lead with three minutes left in the half. Only a brief offensive burst from Omak kept the score from getting away 35-15.
“We did a good job in their zone, making the extra pass. That might be the best we’ve played against a zone in the district championship in nine years.” Darnell said.
Just when it looked like it was shaping up to be a blowout, Omak had their second half. They picked up the pace, attacked the basket in transition, and rebounded. Cashmere’s frustration mounted and Omak was able to draw a few key charges.
It had the makings of a game. Cashmere still led the start of the fourth quarter by 13, but Omak stepped on the gas. With a couple 3-pointers and a few free throws, the Pioneers had Cashmere rocking back on their heels. It was a two-point game 44-42.
“Omak tried something different and we struggled,” Darnell said. “They had girls making open shots that weren't before, and they brought it back.”
Cashmere’s key moments at the end counted. First, a drive from Kaitlyn Bjorklund, then clutch free throws from McKenna and Bessonette. But tough defense that forced difficult shots, and a turnover in the last seconds, were the final touch. They earned their title.
“Huge credit to Omak,” Darnell said.
Cashmere is now 14-4 overall. Omak is 13-5.
Cashmere will play Saturday Feb. 18 at home against the NEA three-seed. Omak will host the loser of the Chelan and Quincy game Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.
This article has been updated to reflect Omak has previously beaten Cashmere this season.