KENNEWICK - What's better than a 14-game winning streak?
The smart aleck answer to that question is obvious. A 15-game winning streak.
Not so, however, as far as coach Bobbi Hazeltine and the players on her Walla Walla Community College women's basketball team are concerned.
For them, the correct answer is two 14-game winning streaks. And an NWAACC championship for good measure.
That's what the Warriors achieved here late Tuesday afternoon in the Toyota Center as they outlasted Eastern Division rival Yakima 75-72 in a riveting title showdown at the annual NWAACC Championships.
The Warriors concluded their campaign the way they began it - on a 14-game roll. The only blemish on their dream-like 28-1 season was a 54-48 loss to the Yaks Jan. 20 in Yakima.
Walla Walla avenged that defeat three weeks later by defeating Yakima 66-59 in the Dietrich Dome. The rivals went on to share the Eastern Division title with identical 13-1 records, and Tuesday afternoon's monumental clash was the rubber match.
For the record, the Warriors and Yaks met one other time during the 2009-10 season. That was way back in November in a pre-league tournament in Yakima, and Walla Walla won the game 82-74. But because the Yaks were playing without Rosetta Adzasu, their prolific, pint-sized point guard, the game was largely considered a non-qualifier in the heated rivalry.
Also for the record, that pre-league tournament in Yakima was called the High Hopes Invitational, something the two veteran clubs certainly shared as they entered the season. But few would have dared to predict they would be sharing the floor for a final time in Tuesday's championship game.
The championship game, Hazeltine confirmed, was almost a carbon copy of the two division games.
"Both of the earlier games were games of runs," the coach said. "We jumped out to a lead in both of those games, they came back and then we had to rally."
The Warriors held a 17-12 advantage midway through the first half, then found themselves trailing by six point, 29-23, with 3:35 remaining before the intermission. But WWCC sophomore post Nancy Johnson hit three baskets and two free throws after that to knot the score at 31-31 at the break.
Walla Walla continued its strong play early in the second half as sophomore guard Kati Isham picked up the pace, much the same as she did in Monday's semifinal victory over Lane. Isham hit four baskets and three free throws as the Warriors moved out to a 48-39 lead with 14:23 remaining. Layne Tucker's 3-pointer from deep in the corner and Johnson's jumper from the wing produced a 55-45 Walla Walla advantage with 11:08 on the clock, the biggest lead either team would enjoy.
Then it was the Yaks' turn.
A 3-pointer by Nicole DeRosier with 9:04 showing drew Yakima within five points, 57-52. Back-to-back baskets by Anna Marchbanks made it a four-point game, 61-57, with 7:46 to go. And another Marchbanks basket followed by Adzasu's layin following a steal and deep 3-pointer vaulted the Yaks into a 66-65 lead with 5:26 to play.
The Warriors regained a 67-66 lead on reserve Morgon VanderEsch's drive to the basket. But Lacie French scored a layin off a deflected pass and Marchbanks worked the paint for another basket, and suddenly the Yaks had a three-point cushion, 70-67, with 2:29 remaining.
Moments later, however, Isham delivered a 3-ball that tied the game at 70-70.
"That shot was so big," Hazeltine said. "Nothing Kati does surprises me."
Yakima claimed its last lead of the game 72-70 with 1:14 remaining on another Marchbanks basket, this one coming on an offensive rebound.
Kayla Hutcheson drew a foul and made one-of-two free throws with 59.9 seconds to play to slice the Yaks' lead in half. Then Jaimie Berghammer controlled a defensive rebound, drew a foul and sank both free throws with 34 seconds on the clock to put the Warriors on top 73.71.
"Jaimie can make her free throws," Hazeltine said of Berghammer, a 50 percent shooter from the line during the regular season. "She's not our best free-throw shooter, but she can make them."
Trailing by a point, Yakima had two opportunities to reclaim the lead. The first resulted in a turnover with 23.5 seconds remaining, and DeRosier's 3-point attempt failed to draw iron and sailed out-of-bounds on the second with 11.6 seconds to play.
Tucker was then fouled on Walla Walla's inbounds play. She sank two free throws with 10.9 seconds left, forcing the Yaks to look for the 3-pointer on their final possession. But Marchbanks' long attempt from deep in the corner, with the Warriors' Johnson in her face, missed badly as the final horn sounded and WWCC's victory celebration commenced.
"It really hasn't hit yet," Hazeltine said of her second NWAACC championship in 11 seasons at Walla Walla. "It's kind of unreal right now. I feel more exhausted than anything. It will hit me one of these days."
This year's championship is more meaningful in several ways than the 2001 title, Hazeltine said.
"We won that first won in Mount Vernon, Wash., a long ways from home," the coach said. "We were just establishing ourselves and there were not a lot of people there.
"It was exciting, but this one is special because we got to share it with so many people. Our college, all of those who work at the college, have been so supportive. And our families. This one is a lot more special because we could share it with so many."
Isham and Johnson, Walla Walla's 1-2 scoring punch all season long, did it again in the championship game with 20 points each. They also combined for 13 rebounds as the Warriors controlled the glass for the fourth straight tournament game, 40-27.
But every other Warrior player who took the floor made contributions that spelled the difference between winning and losing in the hard-fought battle. Hazeltine called it "about as good a team effort as you can get."
Sophomore guard Layne Tucker's line included eight points, seven rebounds and four assists. Berghammer, a sophomore post, had nine points, including those two clutch free throws, and seven boards. And Hutcheson, yet another sophomore, chipped in with three points, four rebounds and an assist.
Freshman Shiann Dreadfulwater came off the bench to score three key baskets, and she assisted on two others. Another reserve, freshman Cierra Silverthorn, scored a basket and two free throws to go with a pair of defensive rebounds. Freshman Morgan Wolff hit her only shot of the game in three minutes off the bench. And sophomore Shelbi Isham chipped in with a free throw, three rebounds and three assists in her 19:48 on the floor.
Yakima's Marchbanks was the game's most dynamic player with 32 points and 14 rebounds. Adzasu followed with a 22-point, seven-assist performance. French scored nine points.
But the Yaks lacked Walla Walla's overall depth, and in the end that's what cost them the title.
WALLA WALLA (75) - Dreadfulwater 3-6 0-0 6, Wolff 1-1 0-0 2, S. Isham 0-1 1-2 1, VanderEsch 1-2 0-0 2, Tucker 2-5 1-2 8, K. Isham 7-15 5-6 20, Johnson 8-11 4-4 20, Hutcheson 1-4 1-3 3, Silverthorn 1-4 2-2 4, Berghammer 2-4 5-6 9. Totals 26-53 21-27 75.
YAKIMA (72) - Jones 0-1 0-0 0, French 3-6 1-2 9, Marchbanks 14-21 4-6 32, Adzasu 10-23 1-2 22, DeRosier 2-7 0-0 5, Urquhart 0-4 2-2 2, Hull 0-1 0-0 0, Fenumiai 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 30-65 8-12 72.
Halftime - WWCC 31, Yakima 31. 3-point goals - WWCC 2-7 (S. Isham 0-1, Tucker 1-2, K. Isham 1-3), Yakima 4-24 (French 2-4, Marchbanks 0-4, Adzasu 1-8, DeRosier 1-6, Hull 0-1, Fenumiai 0-1). Total fouls - Yakima 22, WWCC 12. Fouled out - none. Technical fouls - none. Rebounds - WWCC 40 (K. Isham 8), Yakima 27 (Marchbanks 14). Turnovers - WWCC 18, Yakima 11. Assists - WWCC 14 (Tucker 4), Yakima 12 (Adzasu 7).