HOQUIAM - In a game dominated by the defenses of both teams and a standout offensive performance by Naselle's Nora Darcher in spite of the defensive pressure, the Naselle Comettes came back and held off the Morton Huskies 47-41 in their district tournament semifinal girls basketball game played last Saturday, Feb. 22.
The Comettes and Huskies went at it tooth and nail with each team utilizing relentless man-to-man defensive pressure to put a premium price on scoring. The Huskies finally weakened, but they didn't weaken much, fouling the Comettes who outscored them 14-7 in the closing minutes for the win.
Before the crucial final eight minutes, the teams swapped the lead five times and tied each other four times. And all that was before the final quarter, when the action reached an even greater ulcer creating frenzy.
The teams battled to a 17-13 Morton lead after one quarter when Morton's "Big Dawgs" - 6-foot 1-inch freshman Vanessa Ramsey, 6-foot sophomore Sunny Nilson and 5-foot 10-inch senior Hollyn Nilson - gave NHS all sorts of problems scoring inside and controlling the boards.
While the Huskies big girls were providing a board-clearing curtain underneath, the 5-foot 4-inch junior Kimberly Coleman was practically camped inside of Darcher's jersey. Everywhere Darcher went, Coleman was sure to follow.
In spite of that pressure, Darcher still managed to score nine points in the first half and NHS used a 9-4 second period to lead 22-21 at the well-earned intermission.
As the low scoring second quarter indicates, defense was premium. The Naselle "D," anchored by Fritha Davern (six game steals), Lucy Rubio, Abbie Smith and Tiffany Pauly, held the Huskies to only four points in the period. In fact, there wasn't a point scored by either team through the first 3:37 of the quarter. The second quarter was to be a preview of the fourth stanza.
With players and fans, alike, having a chance to regroup over the break, the teams played with more offensive intensity in the third period. The lead changed hands three times and there was one tie before the Huskies finally won the third quarter battle 13-11.
Disconcerting for the "Dalton Gang" were some quick and perhaps avoidable, fouls picked up by Pauly and Rubio. Each picked up three fouls in the quarter with Pauly getting her fourth personal with 3:32 left in the quarter. The fouls forced coach Rob Dalton to go to his bench with senior super-sub Dawn Herman, sophomore Kelli Revis and sophomore Katie Klinger filling in well for the offending players.
With Darcher scoring Naselle's last four points of the quarter, after neither team scored in almost four minutes, the Comettes held a slight lead. However, defensive star Coleman changed that with five quick points, including a trey, giving Morton a 34-33 lead after three periods.
The stage was set. All that remained in the drama was to see whether NHS could weather their foul problems and Morton's stingy defense to keep their unbeaten streak alive.
Things started out well in spite of Rubio's fourth foul only ten seconds into the quarter. Darcher continued her hot foul shooting, then made a dandy dipsy-do of a shot and Davern put back a rebound. Those six points gave Naselle a 39-35 lead with 5:10 left in the game.
All over? No way!
Herman picked up her third foul and Rubio, who had just come back in, was sent to the bench with her fifth personal with 3:39 to play. Luckily for NHS, the Huskies only made two of their four free chances and still trailed by two points.
Pauly put down a hoop to give NHS a four-point lead and then quickly picked up her firth foul with 2:50 to play. Morton's Hollyn Nilson, who was also in foul trouble with four personals, sank both to pull the Dawgs within two points at 41-39.
Assistant coach Tim Wirkkala said, "With Lucy and Tiffany gone, it was up to our bench to come through. And they did with Dawn, Kelli and Katie filling in. We sort of had to ad-lib our offense and Abbie is so good at doing what needs to be done, she did it by getting the ball to Nora."
Now, with two regulars out of the lineup, it was up to the Naselle sophomores to fill in with the regulars for almost the last three minutes. Revis immediately made her presence felt with a steal after Darcher scored off a set in bounds play. Herman stretched the lead by making one-of-two free throws, Darcher added two more freebies and Smith made one-of-two free throws to give Naselle a 47-39 lead with only 13 seconds left.
Then and only then, did the Comettes give up a field goal. They only allowed one field goal in the fourth period, as a Morton player sank a long two-pointer at the horn to make the final score 47-41.
Wirkkala said, "We played some pretty good defense in that fourth quarter, especially with two of our starters out and we didn't allow them a field goal until right at the horn."
NHS, with Darcher making nine of 12 free throws and 15 of her 24 points in the second half, had weathered the Husky onslaught and were primed for the championship game.
"We are proud of what these girls have done. This wasn't the prettiest win but it gave the girls one of the goals that they were striving for, to play in the district championship game. Now some of that pressure is off, they can go out and play the game to enjoy it this Saturday," Wirkkala concluded.
NHS will play two-year defending district champion Mossyrock Vikings, which defeated Willapa Valley 59-44, at 6 p.m. this Saturday in Chehalis.
Morton 17 4 13 7 -41
Naselle 13 9 11 14 -47
Morton (41) - Vanessa Ramsey 13, S. Nilson 8, H. Nilson 8, Coleman 7, Cox 3, Layman 2, Shepherd; FG -15/41 = .375, 3s -2/5, FT -7/10: Turnovers (23); Fouls (18)
Naselle (47) - Nora Darcher 24, Davern 6, Pauly 6, Smith 5, Rubio 5, Herman 1, Revis, Klinger; FG - 16-39=.410, 3s -1/6, FT -14/23; Rebounds (23): Rubio 6, Darcher 5, Revis 3; Assists: Smith 3; Steals: Davern 6; Turnovers (13); Fouls (18)