WALLA WALLA — As the second half unraveled Wednesday night in the Dietrich Dome, the question seemingly became more and more obvious.
Could Jessica Siler, Walla Walla’s aggressive 5-foot-11 sophomore forward out of Umatilla, snag enough rebounds and make enough 2-point field goals to offset Blue Mountain’s rainstorm of 3-point baskets?
As it turned out, the answer — with just enough help from Siler’s teammates — was a resounding yes as the Warriors overcame a one-point halftime deficit and held off the stubborn Timberwolves 70-62 in an NWAACC East Region women’s basketball game.
Siler was relatively quiet in the first half, sinking 2-of-5 field goals for four points. But she became active early and often in the final 20 minutes as she connected on 8-of-15 shots from the floor and both of her free-throw attempts to finish with a game-high 26 points.
Siler also collared 10 of her game-high 16 rebounds after the intermission as the second-place Warriors controlled the backboards 38-33 and improved to 11-2 in the division and 17-7 overall heading into Saturday night’s regular-season finale in the dome against first-place Columbia Basin.
Blue Mountain, meanwhile, thanks to Big Bend’s 56-52 loss at Wenatchee Wednesday, punched its ticket to next week’s NWAACC Championships in Kennewick despite the loss. The Timberwolves (7-6, 18-8) are in third place in the division, one game ahead of Big Bend (6-7, 16-11) and Spokane (6-7, 14-12), which won 65-48 at Yakima Wednesday.
Since Spokane plays at Big Bend in Saturday’s regular-season finale, the loser of that game will finish 6-8 in the East and out of postseason contention. The top four teams from the East qualify for the tournament.
Blue Mountain can capture the No. 3 seed to the tournament Saturday in Ontario, Ore., with a victory over last-place Treasure Valley (0-13, 2-24). The Chukars were buried 90-34 Wednesday night at Columbia Basin as the Coyotes clinched the East title and improved to 13-0 in the division and 23-3 overall.
In the event Blue Mountain and the winner of the Spokane-Big Bend wind up tied for third and fourth places, a tiebreaker will determine seeding into the tournament since the teams split their regular-season games.
Freshman guard Karli McKone, starting in place of leading scorer Amy DeLong, kept the Warriors in the game in the first half as she drained four 3-point baskets and scored 13 of her 17 points before the break. DeLong was held out of the game because of concussion-like symptoms and her status for Saturday was unknown.
Sophomore MeShel Rad was also a factor for WWCC in the first half as she scored the Warriors’ first three baskets en route to 12 points and nine rebounds on the night.
The Warriors led by as many six points, 22-16, on McKone’s third 3-pointer at the 6:50 mark. But Blue Mountain outscored Walla Walla 12-5 over the remainder of the first half and led 28-27 on Lexi Chung’s 3-pointer nine seconds before the halftime buzzer sounded.
But Siler opened the second-half scoring with three consecutive buckets, all of them from close range, as Walla Walla surged to a 33-28 lead with 18:37 on the clock.
“We told them at halftime that we needed to get the ball inside,” explained Warriors coach Bobbi Hazeltine, who will be taking her team to the NWAACC Championships for a 14th consecutive year.
“That’s what we are, an inside scoring team. We were settling for outside shots in the first half, but Jessica has been so good for us. She’s had an outstanding second half of the season.”
Siler kept up her inside assault throughout the second half while Blue Mountain limbered up from the 3-point arc. After sinking 4-of-12 3s before the break, all but one of Blue Mountain’s nine second-half field goals came from downtown.
And that kept the Timberwolves close on the Warriors heels.
Trailing 48-37 with 7:51 on the clock, two 3-pointers by Haily Markham-Patti and another by Chung pulled Blue Mountain within six points, 52-46, with 6:40 still to play. And back-to-back 3-pointers by Markham-Patti and Kalen Via made it a five-point game, 57-52, with 4:42 remaining in the game.
Siler scored three straight baskets and McKone connected on two free throws for a 65-56 Warriors lead with 1:30 showing. Mar’Shay Moore’s 3-pointer sliced into the WWCC lead, but Walla Walla sealed the victory by sinking 5-of-6 free throws in the final minute.
“They are such a good shooting team,” Hazeltine said of the Timberwolves. “Markham-Patti is in my opinion the best 3-point shooter in the conference.”
Markham-Patti was 6-for-10 from the field, all of them 3-point casts, and led the Timberwolves with 20 points. She also grabbed a team-high nine rebounds.
“We knew all about her even though it didn’t look like it,” Hazeltine said. “We were taking chances with our zone defense and it looked like it might backfire. But once we got the lead we felt pretty good staying in the zone.”
The Warriors will attempt to spoil Columbia Basin’s perfect division record Saturday.
“Gosh, we’re going to give it all we have against CBC,” Hazeltine said. “At the same time, it’s going to be a fun game, and we want to give all of our sophomores some playing time in their final home game.”
Walla Walla 70, Blue Mountain 62
BLUE MOUNTAIN (62) — Gutzman 1-4 0-0 3, Markham-Patti 6-10 2-3 20, Gerlinger 4-8 0-2 8, Moore 2-13 0-0 5, Phillips 0-0 0-0 0, Poummele 3-5 2-2 8, Via 2-11 3-4 8, Rodriguez 0-0 0-0 0, Chung 3-5 1-2 10. Totals 21-56 8-13 62.
WALLA WALLA (70) — McHone 4-11 5-7 17, Johnson 0-1 2-2 2, Corbett 0-1 0-0 0, Jordan 1-5 0-0 2, Nygaard 2-11 2-4 7, Rad 3-8 6-6 12, Vincent 2-5 0-0 4, Stubbs 0-0 0-0 0, Siler 12-20 2-2 26, Stefanski 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-62 17-21 70.
Halftime — Blue Mountain 28, WWCC 27. 3-point goals — Blue Mountain 12-32 (Gutzman 1-4, Markham-Patti 6-10, Moore 1-5, Via 1-8, Chung 3-5), WWCC 5-18 (McHone 4-10, Corbett 0-1, Jordan 0-2, Nygaard 1-4, Vincent 0-1). Total fouls — Blue Mountain 22, WWCC 15. Fouled out — Blue Mountain (Gutzman, Gerlinger). Technical fouls — none. Rebounds — WWCC 38 (Siler 16), Blue Mountain 33 (Markham-Patti 9). Turnovers — Blue Mountain 13, WWCC 11. Assists — WWCC 16 (Corbett 7), Blue Mountain 14 (Gutzman 7).