PORTLAND — Not sure how many would have given 1A Cashmere a chance to win the Portland Holiday Tournament against 5A and 6A Oregon teams. With one of the best players in the country leading the way, the Cashmere Bulldogs shocked the Portland basketball fans by winning the tournament over the weekend.

“I thought we could come down here and be competitive with some of these teams. We just played really well on both ends of the floor, especially defensively. Those kids played their guts out defensively and rebounded the snot out of the ball,” said Cashmere Head Coach Brent Darnell. “It was an incredible three games of basketball. Very proud of us. It was a big statement for our team and our program.”

In the first game last Friday, Cashmere faced Liberty High School. The Bulldogs led in the first quarter 13-11. After a big second quarter, they led 30-16. Liberty cut the lead in the third quarter to 41-35. A strong fourth quarter propelled the Bulldogs to the 60-46 victory.

The Cashmere defense held Liberty to 32 percent shooting, while the Bulldogs shot 50 percent from the field. Cashmere out-rebounded 35-23. Hailey Van Lith scored 33 points and grabbed 9 boards. Grace Hammond had 12 points and 5 rebounds. Riley Johnson and Grace Erdmann each had 7 rebounds.

“After the first night, when we played against Liberty, a team that traps and presses you all over the floor. We haven’t seen a three-quarter court and half-court trap like that in my seven years in Cashmere,” Darnell said. “That team did it all night long. We handled it really well. After that game, we turned quite a few heads. We got a lot of compliments about how hard our girls played and how small we were but how tough.”

Playing against 5A and 6A schools, Darnell said their length and depth are incredible.

“You just watch the team warm up with six or seven 6-footers out there. We have a girl barely pushing 5-11 and everybody else is 5-7,” he said. “It’s a little intimidating. We out-rebounded every team in every game. No team scored fifty. Some of these teams had division one girls on it, but our girls were absolutely nails on defense.”

Against Beaverton in the semifinals on Saturday, Van Lith put on a show, playing perhaps her best game as a Bulldog.

Cashmere led 15-12 in the first quarter and 25-20 at the half. They extended the lead to 10 points in the third quarter at 40-30. Both teams scored 16 in the final quarter to make the final 56-46 in favor of the Bulldogs.

Van Lith had 44 points on 16-for-32 shooting. Darnell said she was unbelievable.

“I’ve coached that kid in a lot of games and seen her do a lot of great things. Her semifinal game Saturday against Beaverton might be the best game I’ve ever seen her play,” he said. “She had 44 points in a big win against a team that is favored to win the 6A state title. They have two D1 girls, sisters, one going to San Diego State and the other to Arizona State. They had two other girls going to play college.”

Darnell said she was an absolute terror on both ends of the floor.

“She was unstoppable. It’s one thing for a kid to hit shots and knock down open threes. Every single shot she took was contested. She hit every tough shot,” Darnell said. “It was super fun to watch her compete at that level.”

Cashmere shot 47 percent from the field while holding Beaverton to 35 percent. The Bulldogs were 5-for-10 from three, while Beaverton was 5-for-22.

In the finals against 5A LaSalle, Cashmere led 18-7 in the first quarter and 26-16 at the half. LaSalle cut the lead to 34-29 after three quarters. Cashmere won the fourth quarter 16-9 to claim the 50-38 victory and tournament title.

Van Lith had a great all-around game with 25 points, 17 rebounds, and 5 assists. Hammond had 11 points.

“They could not believe we were a 1A school playing up in that 5A, 6A division. It was overwhelming. I don’t think the other schools in town were expecting us to win,” Darnell said. “The greatest compliment you can get as a coach when people from other programs compliment how hard they play. We pride ourselves on that. We don’t want anyone to question how hard we play.”

Cashmere held LaSalle to 33 percent shooting, 4-for-23 from three. Cashmere shot 40 percent from the field and 6-for-21 on threes. The Bulldogs outrebounded 42-18.

With the wins, Cashmere improved to 8-0 on the season. They are the number one ranked 1A team in the state. Darnell said they have had the toughest five-game stretch against WF West, Mount Spokane, and those three Oregon teams.

“Getting battle-tested in those games — I told the girls, it’s great that we won, but now I know you have another gear. I’ve seen it. The bar has been raised and the expectation level. I really know what we’re capable of,” he said. “It was fun. That is a big confidence booster for us. The biggest thing for us moving forward is to stay humble and hungry in the second half of the season. They got that taste of blood and want some more.”

Cashmere resumes league play on Friday at Chelan.

Ian Dunn: 664-7157

dunn@wenatcheeworld.com