CASHMERE — La Salle might not be the same team it was two, three years ago.
But Cashmere sure is.
Even without leading-scorer Riley Johnson, who suffered a knee injury this week against Chelan, the Bulldogs flattened the Lightning 51-28 Friday night at home and improved to 5-0 on the season.
Brent Darnell’s patented on-ball defense (unrelenting pressure) overwhelmed La Salle from the opening tip. The Lightning scored all of three points in the first quarter — a lone 3-pointer from Hailey Price — and just 12 in the first half. It was a defensive clinic; something synonymous with Cashmere girls basketball.
And still, there are things the Bulldogs can improve on, Darnell said after the game.
“I was really pleased, probably above anything else,” he said. “But we have a lot to get better at. After losing Riley, we have some growing up to do taking on different roles because Riley is our choo-choo, she runs the train. We’re still learning to play without her but I’ve been pleased with Kaitlyn Bjorklund, who has been a good defensive player and scores efficiently for us as well as Maddie Hammond.”
Bjorklund led the team in scoring with 10 but everyone that suited scored a bucket. During his postgame interview, Darnell said he didn’t think he’s ever had that happen in his coaching career.
“That’s what I mean though when I say I’m excited for our future at Cashmere,” he said. “This freshman class is going to be really special and it’s exciting for me as a coach to put freshmen into the game and not miss a beat. They want to be great and want to work at it, it’s just the monster that keeps feeding itself. I thank all the great players and leaders we’ve had before these girls, they just keep passing it down.”
Freshmen Ellie Bessonette, Leah Kunz and Allie McKenna combined to score 12 points, grab 16 rebounds and nab seven steals in the win.
Cashmere jumped out to a 19-3 lead in the first quarter and carried a 23 point advantage into the locker room after dominating the first half. La Salle couldn’t find a consistent attack offensively and Cashmere forced a multitude of turnovers and/or bad shots.
But the Bulldogs came out a little flat to start the third. Darnell noticed and quickly made a change. Two minutes into the second half, Darnell called a timeout and subbed out all five starters. It sent a clear message: every minute is earned.
“I don’t think there is anything better in the world than knowing that your job is never safe,” Darnell said. “Our starters weren’t playing well and were struggling on both ends so I subbed them all out and played our three freshmen, sophomore Brianna Talley and Zoey Brown. They came in, lit a fire and gave us a spark.”
Cashmere finished the third quarter strong, holding La Salle to just five points while bumping its lead to 28.
The Lightning was able to outscore the Bulldogs in the fourth 11-6 but by that point, the game was pretty much over.
Cashmere’s next game isn’t until Tuesday against Okanogan but Darnell said they’ll be practicing at 8 a.m. Saturday morning, watching film and tweaking a few things.
“Honestly, the girls are excited to get back in the gym, which is one thing I love about them,” he said. “They know we have some things to fix and work on to get better. They want to be better than all the previous great players and teams we’ve had and they know what it looks like to be great. They’ve seen it… you just have to embrace the chaos and embrace the pressure.”
Tip-off on Tuesday in Okanogan is at 6 p.m.