KENNEWICK - Tears of disappointment flowed in the Walla Walla locker room here Tuesday night in the Toyota Center in the painful moments that followed the Warriors' 53-40 loss to Yakima in the women's NWAACC Championships title game.
In the hallway outside, coach Bobbi Hazeltine was smiling. She couldn't help herself. She was just so darned proud of her team.
"We're the second best team in the NWAACC," Hazeltine said. "I am just so proud of these guys for all that they have accomplished. You should have seen us at the beginning of the season."
The Warriors defeated the Yaks 75-72 in last year's championship game here, but they returned just two players. And Shiann Dreadfulwater and Morgan Wolff were no more than role players on that remarkable 28-1 team.
Hazeltine largely rebuilt her team with a cast of talented but inexperienced freshmen. And they squeezed into the tournament as the Eastern Division's No. 4 seed with a 19-6 overall record.
Then they ambushed Northern Division champion Skagit Valley 60-42 in Saturday's opening round of play. They followed that up with a 55-52 quarterfinal victory over Highline, the No. 2 seed out of the West. And in Monday's semifinals, the Warriors held on to beat Eastern Division champion Columbia Basin 52-48 to reach the title game for a second straight year.
But they were no match for a Yakima team that had beaten them twice during the regular season and was playing on an even higher emotional level in the tournament in the wake of a teammate's death. Hannah Cordova, a freshman guard, was killed Feb. 28 in an auto accident in her hometown of Wapato.
But Hannah's presence was felt everywhere in the Toyota Center, from signs in the stands to the players' pink warmups adorned with her name, uniform No. 13 and personal motto - "The Best Never Settle" - to the Yaks' inspired play on the court.
"They were on a mission," Hazeltine said of the Yaks. "It seemed like everything went right for them and nothing we tried to do worked out well. It just seemed like Yakima was destined to win this tournament from the very beginning."
Brittney Newcomb's 3-point basket opened the scoring in Tuesday's championship game and the Yaks never trailed. They led 28-17 at halftime and the Warriors never got closer than 10 points in the second half.
"We tried to make adjustments at halftime," Hazeltine said. "We did make adjustments, it just didn't look like it.
"But I say that smiling," she added. "There have been games that we won this season where I was mad afterward because of the way we played. I don't feel that way about this game."
Yakima's swarming defense took the Warriors out of their offense and forced WWCC into a dismal 13-for-55 shooting night from the field (24 percent) and 2-for-17 from 3-point distance (12 percent).
Dreadfulwater was the only WWCC player immune to the Yaks' pressure as she hit 6-of-9 from the floor and scored a team-high 12 points. Leslie Stillar, WWCC's heroine in its two previous wins, was 2-for-11 from the floor and 1-for-6 from beyond the arc, Wolff was 1-for-8 and 1-6, and Caitlin Duncan was 2-for-10 and 0-for-3. Stevie Humphries and Sienna Edmunson were a combined 0-for-9 from the field.
"Obviously, we didn't shoot well," Hazeltine said. "But give Yakima all the credit in the world. They took us out of what we wanted to do and forced us to set up our offense further out than where we wanted."
Her team's shooting percentage was one of Hazeltine's chief concerns coming into the tournament. The Warriors shot 32 percent from beyond the 3-point arc during the regular season but just 38 percent overall.
The coach's premonition proved to be well founded.
After hitting on 43 percent of their shots against Skagit Valley, the Warriors tailed off to 34 percent against Highline and Columbia Basin before being held to a season low by the Yaks.
For the most part, WWCC played solid defense by limiting the Yaks to 37 percent shooting from the field, although Yakima didn't connect on a healthy 8-for-21 (38 percent) from 3-point distance. The Warriors also outrebounded Yakima 47-43, with Tai Jensen collecting 11 boards, Duncan nine and Humphries eight.
But the Warriors had difficulty containing Dequise Hammick, the Yaks' cat-quick 5-foot-5 guard out of Jefferson High School in Portland. Hammick sank 9-of-20 shots from the floor, led all scorers with 21 points and was named the tournament's most valuable player.
Hammick and teammates A.J. Yarlott and Aliyah Green were named to the all-tournament team along with Warriors Dreadfulwater and Stillar. Yakima's Newcomb was voted most inspirational.
Wolff scored six points in her final game in a Warriors uniform. Stillar, Duncan, Edmunson and Jensen - cornerstones of next year's team along with Alex Pfefferle, who missed the final two games with a knee injury - each finished with five points.
But Dreadfulwater and Wolff will be missed, Hazeltine emphasized.
"What great kids," the coach said. "Right now they are all in there crying their eyes out, but I reminded those two that they won 50 games in their first two years of college basketball. How many players can say that?
"They are just great people, great leaders. They are two Idaho kids who I knew when they were much younger who have meant so much to our program. I am just so thrilled that they came to play for me."
WALLA WALLA (40) - Dreadfulwater 6-9 0-0 12, Klarich 0-1 0-0 0, Wolff 1-8 3-4 6, Stillar 2-11 0-0 5, Duncan 2-10 1-1 5, Humphries 0-5 2-2 2, Edmunson 0-4 5-6 5, Smith 0-0 0-0 0, Jensen 2-7 1-4 5. Totals 13-55 12-19 40.
YAKIMA (53) - Newcomb 4-9 0-0 11, Yarlott 1-3 0-0 3, Roe 0-6 0-0 0, Green 2-9 0-2 4, Nguyen 1-3 0-0 3, Hammick 9-20 1-3 21, Brewster 1-1 0-0 2, Zapien 4-9 0-5 9. Totals 22-60 1-10 53.
Halftime - Yakima 28, WWCC 17. 3-point goals - WWCC 2-17 (Klarich 0-1, Wolff 1-6, Stillar 1-6, Duncan 0-3, Edmunson 0-1), Yakima 8-21 (Newcomb 3-6, Yarlott 1-1, Roe 0-4, Green 0-2, Nguyen 1-1, Hammick 2-6, Zapien 1-1). Total fouls - Yakima 15, WWCC 11. Fouled out - none. Technical fouls - none. Rebounds - WWCC 47 (Jensen 11), Yakima 43 (Zapien 12). Turnovers - WWCC 19, Yakima 13. Assists - Yakima 13 (Hammick 5), WWCC 7 (Duncan 3).