KENNEWICK - Halftime came too soon here Tuesday afternoon at the Toyota Center as far as Walla Walla coach Bobbi Hazeltine was concerned.
The second half lasted way too long.
So it's no wonder Hazeltine collapsed in her chair and breathed a deep sigh of relief when Sienna Edmunson sank a pair of free throws - the first one a crier, the second dead-solid perfect - with 1.8 seconds on the clock to secure the Warriors' 71-69 victory over Chemeketa in the third-place game at the NWAACC Championship women's basketball tournament.
"I hated to see that first half end," Hazeltine said in the moments after guiding her team to an NWAACC trophy for the 12th consecutive year. "And I could tell by the way Chemeketa came out for the second half that it was going to be a different half. They got fired up."
The Storm, who entered the tournament as the No. 2 seed out of the Southern Region, gradually built a 20-15 lead with 8:23 remaining in the first half.
Thirteen seconds later Walla Walla sophomore Alex Pfefferle, who was in the midst of playing the game of her life, stroked her third 3-pointer of the game and ignited one of the most amazing scoring runs in Walla Walla tournament history.
Over the final 8:10 of the first half, Walla Walla outscored Chemeketa 29-3 to take a 44-23 lead that at the time appeared to be insurmountable. Pfefferle drained two more 3-balls during the big blast and went to the locker room at the break with 20 points that equaled her career high.
Leslie Stillar and Janae Klarich also connected from downtown during the run and Edmunson converted a three-point play on a hard drive to the basket, a preview, perhaps, of the most pivotal play of the second half.
Pfefferle, playing on a surgically repaired knee that acted up during the Warriors' 72-68 quarterfinal victory over Skagit Valley Sunday night, finished the game with a career-high 27 points and also snagged a team-high eight rebounds. She sank 10-of-16 shots overall and was a sizzling 6-of-9 from beyond the 3-point arc.
"I've never had a game where I just went off before," said the 5-foot-10 sophomore from Twin Falls, Idaho. "I guess I just figured this was my last game and I wanted to leave it all out there on the court."
Did she sense a big game was in the offing?
"I think I try to sense it before every game," she answered with a shy smile.
What Pfefferle and her teammates perhaps didn't sense was what their coach did as the second half began.
"I knew they were going to make a run at us," Hazeltine said of the Storm. "They got hot, they took Alex out, and I think we got a little tentative."
For Chemeketa, the comeback was slow and methodical yet relentless.
Back-to-back baskets by Lauren Codling cut Walla Walla's lead to 44-27 in the first minute of the second half. Two free throws by Hannah Frederick and a top-of-the-key jumper by 6-2 Kimberly VanDyke made it 46-31 with 17 minutes to play. And a 3-ball by Jordan Klebaum - another harbinger of late-game heroics - two free throws by Janelle Weiss and VanDyke's layin trimmed the Warriors' lead to 13, 49-36, with 15:17 on the second-half clock.
Kayla Cuellar hit a short jumper in the key to finish off a six-point mini-run and pull Chemeketa within single digits at 51-42 at the 11:42 mark. Chantell Stanton's 3-pointer cut the deficit to 55-47 with 7:58 to play, and her steal and layin with 6:53 showing drew the Storm within six at 57-51.
Walla Walla rebuilt a 10-point bulge on back-to-back rebound baskets by Pfefferle and sophomore post Tai Jensen. After an exchange of baskets, VanDyke sank a 3-pointer and followed up with a fast-break basket and the difference was down to five points, 63-58, with 4:20 remaining.
Two free throws by Klarich momentarily stemmed the Storm rally and sent VanDyke to the bench with her fifth foul. But Stanton drove hard to the basket for a field goal and Codling and Weiss drained two free throws each and the Warriors' lead was down to a single point, 65-64, with 43.4 seconds to play.
Less than a second later, Edmunson was fouled and knocked down a pair of free throws for a three-point WWCC lead. Stanton responded with a short banker with 23.1 seconds to play and it was once again a one-point game.
By now the Storm were forced to foul. They picked on Klarich, WWCC's sophomore point guard, and Klarich nailed both ends of a one-and-one opportunity with 17.1 seconds to play for a 69-66 Warriors lead.
The Warriors' full-court pressure defense forced the Storm to run several precious seconds off the clock before crossing mid-court. But Chemeketa's Klebaum, a 5-8 freshman guard, took a pass deep on the right wing, whirled a fired off a 3-pointer that hit nothing but the bottom of the net.
At long last, with 6.9 seconds to play, the Storm had caught the Warriors.
"That 3-pointer still baffles me," Hazeltine would say later. "I thought we had the 3-point line defended."
But there was no time to dwell on a defensive misstep.
After a timeout, the Warriors inbounded the ball to Edmunson, their athletic 5-9 sophomore guard out of New Plymouth, Idaho, and she drove to her left.
"We call it Victory," Hazeltine said. "It's a play we run every night at the end of practice. Sienna is supposed to take the ball hard to the basket, and she has to do it in one less dribble than the number of seconds that are on the clock."
On about the fourth dribble, Edmunson was knocked off her feet by Codling, who was trying to stay in front of the Warriors guard. The whistle blew and Edmunson was awarded two free throws with 1.8 seconds to play.
"I thought it was a good call, the right call," Hazeltine said. "That's a foul early in the game and it has to be a foul late in the game. A foul is a foul, and that is a foul every time."
Edmunson's first free throw caught the left side of the rim, nearly stopped, rolled around the rim and settled into the net to put the Warriors back on top. Her second free throw touched nothing but net.
The Storm's only answer was a mid-court heave by Weiss that came after the buzzer sounded and fell well short of the basket.
Edmunson finished her final game in a Warriors uniform with 13 points. Klarich and Jensen added nine points each to close out their WWCC careers.
Codling scored 16 points and picked off 15 rebounds for the Storm. VanDyke added 13 points and Weiss finished with 12.
Walla Walla, which finished second here a year ago after winning its second NWAACC title in 2010, finished the year at 23-7. Chemeketa wound up 21-8.
Walla Walla 71, Chemeketa 69
CHEMEKETA (69) - Angulo 1-1 0-0 2, Weiss 2-10 6-6 12, Kuenzi 1-1 0-0 3, Cuellar 1-6 0-2 2, Stanton 4-11 1-2 10, Codling 6-12 4-5 16, Bull 0-0 0-0 0, Van Huffel 0-0 0-0 0, VanDyke 6-13 0-0 13, Frederick 1-1 3-4 5, Klebaum 2-9 0-0 6. Totals 24-64 14-19 69.
WALLA WALLA (71) - Seitz 0-2 0-0 0, Klarich 2-7 4-4 9, Hawkins 0-1 0-0 0, Stillar 3-7 0-0 7, Pfefferle 10-16 1-2 27, Humphries 0-0 0-0 0, Felgenhauer 1-9 0-0 2, Edmunson 3-7 7-9 13, Tynan 0-0 0-0 0, Jensen 4-12 1-2 9, Anderson 1-2 2-2 4. Totals 24-63 15-19 71.
Halftime - WWCC 44, Chemeketa 23. 3-point goals - Chemeketa 7-24 (Weiss 2-4, Kuenzi 1-1, Cuellar 0-2, Stanton 1-6, Codling 0-1, VanDyke 1-3, Klebaum 2-9), WWCC 8-19 (Seitz 0-1, Klarich 1-2, Hawkins 0-1, Stillar 1-5, Pfefferle 6-9, Felgenhauer 0-1). Total fouls - Chemeketa 20, WWCC 16. Fouled out - Chemeketa (VanDyke). Technical fouls - Chemeketa (Codling). Rebounds - Chemeketa 44 (Codling 15), WWCC 42 (Pfefferle 8). Turnovers - Chemeketa 12, WWCC 9. Assists - WWCC 11 (Klarich 4), Chemeketa 9 (Codling 3).