WALLA WALLA - Happy Birthday Jill Meliah.
Meliah's Wa-Hi girls basketball team presented their coach with a 52-35 victory over Wenatchee here Saturday in the semifinal round of the Columbia Basin Big Nine 4A girls basketball District Tournament.
"I told the girls I wanted a win tonight for my birthday," Meliah said. "Then I told them I really wanted to be greedy and get a district championship. So if we can carry that (birthday wish) over."
The win propels Wa-Hi into the district championship against regular-season league champion Chiawana, a 51-24 winner over Richland Saturday, at 7 p.m. Friday at Chiawana. The district champion earns a ticket to the regional tournament, the loser plays again Saturday.
This one did not start pretty as the Blue Devils hit only two of their first 15 shots from the floor, but Allie Greene drained both of her free throws with 11 seconds left and Wa-Hi took a 7-5 lead after one.
"We battled through some nerves, and were just so excited to play," Meliah said of the first-quarter shooting blues. "We were getting good looks, they just weren't falling. I told them to keep shooting and try to get to the free throw line, it's going to happen."
Wa-Hi's aggressive, pressing, ball-hawking defense kept the Panthers at bay, as Wenatchee only got off 11 shots in the first 11 minutes of the game.
"The nice thing was, that even though we weren't hitting shots, we were limiting their shots," Meliah added. "They weren't getting very good looks as our defense kept us in the game until we started hitting some stuff."
It took Libbie Jimenez coming off the Blue Devil bench to ignite the Wa-Hi offense.
Jimenez drained a trey with 4:44 left in the half to run the lead to 10-5. Jimenez hit a deep two 30 seconds later to make it 12-7.
Mikayla Ferenz added a Wa-Hi bucket, before Jimenez took over again. Jimenez hit a step-back jumper and followed that with a 3-ball off a Greene feed to cap her 10-point quarter and produce a 19-11 Wa-Hi lead with 1:13 left in the half.
Greene finished the quarter with a bucket and the Blue Devils went to intermission up 21-13.
"I try to pump them (the team) up and give them energy and opportunities to shoot," Jimenez said of her role off the bench. "Oh gosh, that second quarter was crazy. I came in with a mission, as I got tired coming in off the bench and not scoring. I just kept shooting, and even if you miss, the shooters have to keep shooting."
"She was huge," Meliah said of Jimenez' second quarter. "Libbie is a great all around athlete. We've been talking to her about coming in and being a spark and flying around and making things happen."
Kiana Molitor led the third quarter Blue Devil charge. Molitor got a steal, scored a 3-point play, and added a bucket to run the Wa-Hi advantage to 28-16 with two minutes gone in the third.
Andrea Hamada capped this quarter with a 3-ball that was in the air at the buzzer and found the bottom of the net for a 36-23 Blue Devil lead gong to the fourth.
"I went crazy," Jimenez said of Hamada's buzzer beater. "I went over there and hugged her."
Jimenez drained a trey to open the fourth, and Jaiden Hodnefield hit another 3 to cap the win and in between Wa-Hi went to a high-low attack to finish this one. Post Torri Crawford dished to Maddy Sirmon inside for a bucket, and Mikayla Ferenz went low to Crawford who finished for a 47-31 Wa-Hi lead with 2:10 left.
"Coach (Anne) Bickelhaupt has been working on high-low stuff with our post," Meliah said. "It was nice to see them look high-low and get some easy buckets."
Jimenez led the way with 13 points, Mikayla Ferenz finished with 10 points, and Crawford grabbed five boards.
Michaela George led the Panthers with 14 points and 12 rebounds.
It was the Wa-Hi defense that made the difference in this one. The Blue Devils limited the Panthers to 13-of-45 from the floor and forced 19 turnovers.
"We try to put a lot of pressure on their guards," Jimenez said of the Blue Devil defense. "We try to get steals and keep our hands up all the time. I thought we did great."
Chiawana has two regular-season wins over the Blue Devils as they meet for a third time with the district title on the line.
"That's the game right there," Jimenez said. "This game was important, but we need to take care of Chiawana. I feel great about going over there."
Wa-Hi 52, Wenatchee 35
WENATCHEE (35) - Kanskey 0-5 0-0 0, Parker 0-3 0-0 0, Rockstad 1-3 0-0 2, Miller 0-0 0-0 0, Stone 0-0 0-0 0, Schroeder 0-2 0-0 0, Buterbaugh 3-9 0-0 9, George 4-15 6-7 14, Sealby 4-5 0-0 8, Chandler 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 13-45 6-7 35.
Wa-Hi (52) - Thompson 0-0 0-0 0, Greene 2-4 4-4 8, Crawford 1-6 2-2 4, Molitor 2-3 1-1 5, Hodnefield 1-1 0-0 3, Deopker 0-0 0-0 0, M. Ferenz 3-15 3-5 10, Jimenez 5-7 0-0 13, Sirmon 3-9 0-0 6, K. Ferenz 0-1 0-0 0, Hamada 1-4 0-0 3. Totals 18-50 10-12 52.
Wenatchee 5 8 10 12 - 35
Wa-Hi 7 14 15 16 - 52
3-point goals - Wen 3-10 (Parker 0-1, Schroeder 0-2, Buterbaugh 3-7 ), Wa-Hi 6-15 (Molitor 0-1, M. Ferenz 1-4 Hodnefield 1-1, Jimenez 3-5, K. Ferenz 0-1, Hamada 1-3). Total fouls - Wen 14, Wa-Hi 11., Wa-Hi Fouled out - none. Technical fouls - none. Rebounds - Wen 32 (George 12), Wa-Hi 33 (Crawford 5, Jimenez 5). Turnovers - Wen 19, Wa-Hi 17. Assists - Wen 9 (Rockstad 3, Buterbaugh 3), Wa-Hi 12 (Hamada 4).