WENATCHEE — Last week, the Wenatchee Valley women's basketball team suffered a nail-biting loss on the road. Close games have slowly become a trend Wenatchee has grown accustomed to.
Wednesday night was another example. Even though Wenatchee lost to the Yaks by 20 last month, that didn’t prevent them from rising to the occasion and finishing the night with a 10-point upset, 66-56.
From the start, you weren’t sure it would go that way. The Yaks zone defense slowed down the Knights, and for spurts throughout the game, Wenatchee had no answer for the Yaks post player, Aliyah Finch. Add trips to the free-throw line and it all mounted to an early lead.
Wenatchee responded creatively on offense and persistent defensively from Monica Miller. She wasn’t alone. Wenatchee freed an offensive plug when Kierstin Constantino knocked down a three to tie, and Ciahna Oatman followed with another for the lead 7-4.
It was the beginning of an 8-0 run for Wenatchee. They picked up the defensive pressure, denied the post, contested shots, and transitioned quickly. They led the first quarter 11-6.
“We have some skills in the full-court, and when we lock down on defense it leads to fast breaks,” Wenatchee Head Coach Patrick Green said.
The second quarter was a mélange of lead changes — eight of them. The Yaks attacked quickly to regain the lead, but 3-pointers from Constantino and Oatman, again, brought it back to Wenatchee 19-17.
When the Knights struggled to finish in the paint or hit from deep, they shot well from the typically neglected mid-range. Jordyn Gieffers, Celicia Enos, and Farrah Parrish, who offered a relentless defensive presence, all struck from mid-range. They led at halftime 31-29.
Wenatchee created shots but had trouble finishing to start the next half. Yakima went back to the post and found success with the game's leading scorer, Finch.
But an offensive boost from Enos, off the bench and Wenatchee’s leading scorer, all culminated in a minute and a half stretch during the last half of the quarter, where the lead changed hands six times.
“They spread it around a bit on offense,” Green said. “Our bench’s minutes counted.”
The Knights fell back on their defense, and it helped fuel a 10-4 run to regain the lead by the end of the third quarter, 47-42.
That continued in the fourth quarter when a Gieffers block fed Miller for a coast-to-coast finish. Miller finished a drive on the next possession to give Wenatchee their largest lead, 58-46.
The Yaks made a run in the final minutes, closing the gap to within six, but clutch free throws from Miller and Alexes Stein were the dagger 66-56.
Wenatchee finished with four in double figures, three with four assists, and their bench outscored Yakima’s 29-12.
Enos led Wenatchee with 13 points in just 12 minutes of playing time. Oatman followed with 11 points and two steals. Monica Miller finished with 11 points, eight rebounds, four assists, and two steals.
For Yakima, Finch led with a double-double of 27 points, 15 rebounds, and two blocks.
“Their goal is to get better every day, and I think they are,” Green said.
Wenatchee’s record is now 4-5. Yakima Valley’s record is now 6-5.
Men fall to Yakima Valley
Wenatchee Valley men's basketball lost to Yakima Valley last month by only eight points.
What made Wednesday night sting a little more for Wenatchee was fighting back from a 21-point deficit only to fall by a similar score of 78-71.
The Yaks were physical, quick in transition, pulled down rebounds, and occasionally used a half-court trap to pour on the defensive pressure. It gave them a 7-0 start.
What also helped them, and what would be a theme throughout the night, was their propensity for reaching the free-throw line. The Yaks made it to the foul line more than three times the amount Wenatchee did, an astounding 41-14 attempts.
Wenatchee responded with an 8-2 run fueled by steals and quick transitions. It was a one-point game 9-8.
The wind was taken out of Wenatchee’s sails when their leading scorer took a hard fall and left the game because of injury.
“When we lost Benavidez, we knew it was going to be a tough night,” Wenatchee Head Coach Mathew Vargas said.
A few Knights stepped up. Steady offense from Donato Joseph, and key buckets off the bench from Evik Amy, all helped Wenatchee tie the game 19-19.
Turnovers began to add up and Yakima efficiently turned those into points. If they couldn’t reach the basket, they usually made it to the free-throw line. By the end of the first half, the Yaks led 44-34.
“Yakima’s record isn’t indicative of who they are,” Vargas said. “They have that confidence and physicality. They wear you down.”
The second half picked up where the Yaks left off, and they built their largest lead to 21 within the first three minutes. But once again, Wenatchee responded.
The Knights went on a 20-6 tear for eight minutes. Amy and Ladu Kaden peppered the score sheet, and Joseph and Justin Loveless hit big from deep. Wenatchee whittled the deficit down to five after Bryson Williams sunk a three with eight minutes left, 62-57.
“They’re capable of that,” Vargas said. “It's just difficult to maintain.”
That’s as close as they’d get. For the rest of the game, the Yaks would swell the lead with free throws, and Wenatchee would pull it back with a tenacious defense until the final buzzer.
“I love my guys,” Vargas said. “They listen and go hard for me. They played all the way through.”
Joseph led Wenatchee with 18 points and five assists. Evik Amy finished with 14 points.
For Yakima, Jamon Kemp finished with 20 points, nine rebounds, and four steals. Javonte Darrett followed with 19 points and four steals.
Wenatchee is now 2-7 in the conference. Yakima Valley is 6-5 in conference play.
Wenatchee hosts Spokane Saturday. The tipoff for the women’s game is set for 2 p.m. and the men’s tipoff is at 4 p.m.