KENNEWICK - When Walla Walla super sub and scoring leader Alex Pfefferle limped off the court with a knee injury less than five minutes into Sunday night's NWAACC Championships quarterfinal basketball game here in the Toyota Center, fellow freshman Leslie Stillar gathered her teammates around her.
"When Alex went out my heart dropped," said Stillar, another of coach Bobbi Hazeltine's lock-and-load offensive weapons who begins each game on the bench. "I got the other girls together and told them that we had to pull together and play hard and get the job done for her."
With 6.4 seconds remaining in the game, Stillar put it all on her own shoulders. She squared up and knocked down a cold-blooded 3-point basket that snapped a 52-52 tie and lifted the Warriors to a 55-52 victory over Highline and into the semifinals of the women's tournament.
"That was pretty exciting stuff," admitted Stillar, who said she had "never before, certainly not at the collegiate level," connected on a more dramatic basket.
"It was a relief, and a great confidence builder," Stillar added. "The coaches have been working on building my confidence all year."
Stillar wasn't the first option coming out of a WWCC timeout with 30.3 seconds remaining after Highline's Danielle Carlman had drained a 3 that drew the Thunderbirds even.
"We wanted to run the clock down to 10 seconds, and the plan was for Shiann (Dreadfulwater) to go to the hole," Hazeltine explained. "The second option was Leslie spotting up on the wing. It's something we practice all the time, but the layup was the first option."
Not that the coach had any qualms about the option No. 2.
"I was actually hoping that was what would happen," Hazeltine said. "Leslie is kind of a unique freshman. Nothing really bothers her. A lot of kids get caught up in emotion, but Leslie doesn't, and I kind of wanted the ball in her hands."
Walla Walla advances to an all-Eastern Division semifinal round and meets East champion and No. 1 seed Columbia Basin here tonight at 8. The Hawks rallied from a 16-point deficit to defeat Lane, the No. 2 seed out of the Southern Division, 58-46 in their quarterfinal match.
Yakima, seeded second out of the East, meets third seed Spokane in today's first semifinal game at 6. Yakima advanced with a 73-59 victory over Clackamas, the top-seeded team out of the Southern Division. And third-seeded Spokane defeated Western Division champion and No. 1 seed Lower Columbia 66-62.
In consolation-round games Sunday, Clark eliminated Everett 62-60, Umpqua ousted Skagit Valley 80-77, Whatcom ended Southwest Oregon's season with a 78-70 victory and Bellevue sent Tacoma home by winning 58-54. Clark met Umpqua today at 10 a.m. followed by Whatcom vs. Bellevue at noon.
Unlike Saturday's tournament opener when Walla Walla raced to 20-6 lead in the first 10 minutes of a 60-42 victory over Skagit Valley, the Warriors found themselves trailing Highline 7-0 in the first two-and-a-half minutes of play and 16-6 at the 13:14 mark after back-to-back 3-pointers by the Thunderbirds' Carol Howard and Danielle Carlman.
By then, Hazeltine had already inserted four of her reserves into the game and had watched one of them, Pfefferle, leave the game for good with 15:30 on the clock. Pfefferle had injured her left knee the day before against Skagit Valley, left that game and then returned briefly and appeared to be OK.
Hazeltine said she didn't expect Pfefferle to be available for the remainder of the tournament.
"She wants to play, but I'm leaning towards not playing her," Hazeltine said. "I told her it is not worth wasting her career over it. She will see a specialist, and if we get some good news, great. But we are planning without her, and I don't expect to have her."
Hazeltine also explained her decision to switch out her lineup less than three minutes into the game.
"We needed a spark, and we have four kids on our bench who could be starting," the coach said. "I've never cleared the bench like that before, but we had spent a lot of time talking about coming out strong and our starters didn't come out strong. I felt we needed a change."
Pfefferle, who averages 11.5 points per game, scored on a driving layin, drew a foul and sank the free throw with 16:29 on the clock, which drew the Warriors within 8-6. One minute later she was sprawled on the court crying out in pain.
And after her departure, the Thunderbirds scored eight unanswered points to take their biggest lead of the game, 16-6, before the Warriors regrouped and began their long comeback.
A rebound basket by Stevie Humphries and a baseline jumper by Dreadfulwater cut the Thunderbirds' lead to 16-10 before Jocelyn Jones' spinning drive to the basket restored an eight-point Highline lead with 11:32 on the first-half clock.
Then, over the next three minutes, the Warriors stepped to the free-throw line five times where they sank 8-of-10 free throws to knot the score at 18-18 with 7:35 showing. Stillar was 5-of-6 from the line during that stretch, Caitlin Duncan sank a pair and Sienna Edmunson connected on the back end of a two-shot opportunity.
It was a dogfight the rest of the way.
* Highline led 28-26 at the half on Leini Tukutau's muscle move to the basket with 38 seconds on the clock.
* Duncan - under orders at halftime to get more involved on the offensive end - drained two 3-point shots and Morgan Wolff contributed a basket and a free throw as the Warriors assumed a 36-32 lead four minutes into the second half.
* Highline responded with three straight baskets for a 38-36 lead before Dreadfulwater's 3-pointer put Walla Walla back in front 39-38 with 13:43 to play.
* Another Highline run of seven unanswered points gave the Thunderbirds a 45-39 advantage with an even 10 minutes remaining, and for the first time it appeared that the fourth-seeded Warriors might not have enough fuel remaining in their tank to pull off a second straight upset.
* But Stillar shocked the Warriors back to life with the second of her three 3-pointers to make it a one-possession game, 45-42. Dreadfulwater sank 1-of-2 free throws to narrow Highline's lead to two points. Stillar scored again on a drive down the middle for a 45-45 tie. And then Dreadfulwater, one of two sophomores on the WWCC roster, scored on a hard drive to the basket and drew a foul. She completed the three-point play and suddenly the Warriors had a 48-45 lead with 7:19 to go.
* Highline's Jones and WWCC's Humphries exchanged baskets. The Thunderbirds' Heather Hitch and Shalee Butler-Woods each made 1-of-2 free throws, sandwiched around a pair of free throws by the Warriors' Edmunson, and it was 52-49 WWCC with 1:11 to play.
* And that set the stage for Carlman's clutch 3-pointer, only to be trumped by Stillar's game-winner.
Stillar finished with 16 points to lead all scorers. Dreadfulwater was also in double figures with 13 points while Duncan finished with eight and Humphries and Wolff with six each.
Howard led the Thunderbirds with 15 points and Jones tallied 11.
Walla Walla and Columbia Basin will be meeting for the fourth time this season in tonight's semifinals. The Hawks won a non-league game 57-55 in overtime, and the teams split a pair of division games, CBC winning 63-58 in Pasco and Walla Walla prevailing 65-49 on the WWCC campus.
"It's a good rivalry," Hazeltine said. "The kids like each other, and they know each other very well.
"They are a well-coached team and a very experienced team. They are the No. 1 team in our division. They have four all-conference kids and the player of the year in our division.
"We are young and still learning. But we played very well against them at our place, and we will not go down without a fight."
WALLA WALLA (55) - Dreadfulwater 5-10 2-3 13, Klarich 0-1 0-0 0, Wolff 2-7 2-2 6, Stillar 4-10 5-6 16, Pfefferle 1-1 1-1 3, Duncan 2-7 2-2 8, Humphries 3-7 0-0 8, Leasy 0-0 0-0 0, Edmunson 0-4 3-4 3, Smith 0-0 0-0 0, Jensen 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 17-50 15-18 55.
HIGHLINE (52) - Howard 6-16 1-2 15, Morkert-Burling 2-9 0-0 4, Jones 4-10 3-4 11, Hitch 3-5 1-2 7, Pearson 0-1 0-0 0, Butler-Woods 0-3 1-2 1, McKinnon 0-2 0-0 0, Morgan 0-0 0-0 0, Tukutau 3-5 2-2 8, Carlman 2-2 0-1 6. Totals 20-53 8-13 52.
Halftime - Highline 28, WWCC 26. 3-point goals - WWCC 6-11 (Dreadfulwater 1-1, Stillar 3-7, Duncan 2-3), Highline 4-16 (Howard 2-7, Morkert-Burling 0-4, Jones 0-3, Carlman 2-2). Total fouls - Highline 19, WWCC 16. Fouled out - none. Technical fouls - none. Rebounds - WWCC 37 (Duncan 5), Highline 33 (Hitch 6, Butler-Woods 6). Turnovers - WWCC 11, Highline 10. Assists - WWCC 10 (Dreadfulwater 2, Klarich 2, Duncan 2), Highline 6 (Howard 2, Jones 2).