For the first time in the 37-year history of Washington girls basketball, the North Central Indians are headed to state.
Using its usually adhesive defense, North Central pulled away from the Shadle Park Highlanders 51-38 in the District 8 3A championship game Thursday at Shadle.
Just five days ago, the No.2-seeded Indians found their backs against the wall when top-seeded Shadle handled NC 63-50 in a district opener.
So when the Indians showed up to practice Monday, NC coach Gabe Medrano put out the challenge.
“I said if you don’t believe you can win three in a row, then let me know and don’t come,” Medrano said. “You’ve got to believe or otherwise it won’t happen.”
NC (16-8), which has won four more times than its previous best, advances to the first round of state, returning to Shadle Park a week from today against the No. 1 seed from the Columbia Basin Big Nine. That will be either Kamiakin or Eastmont. Those teams play in the district final tonight at Eastmont.
The Indians won an elimination game Tuesday against University and then forced the if-necessary game when it pulled out a 42-41 decision Wednesday.
It was an easier game Thursday than Wednesday – largely because the Indians’ defense sparked the offense.
After Shadle got out to a 7-0 lead, NC fought back within 12-11 when Kalen Via hit a 3-pointer with 4 seconds to go in the first quarter.
A 7-0 surge to open the second, capped by another Via 3-pointer, gave NC an 18-12 lead.
The Highlanders (15-8) used their own 7-0 spurt to take a 19-18 lead. But a jumper by Riley Holsinger with 3:37 to go before halftime gave NC a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
NC pushed its lead to 10 points by the end of the third. Shadle pulled within 37-31 when Aleisha Hathaway scored with 5:44 to go, but the Indians quickly extended their lead to 11.
The Indians rarely allowed an easy basket.
“Their defense was amazing,” Medrano said. “I’ve been saying every time we play Shadle that if they just keep the players in front of them and make them take tough shots over them they’d be fine.”
NC’s 6-foot-1 senior post Tara Van Weerdhuizen had a game-high 16 points and nine rebounds.
“This is amazing,” Van Weerdhuizen said. “I’m so happy we’re making history.”
Holsinger, who had 14 points, 14 rebounds and four assists, summed up her emotions.
“Relief,” she said. “I almost don’t know what to say.”
Aleisha Hathaway led Shadle with 15 points.
NC boys come through again
The North Central boys will join the Indians’ girls at state.
North Central raced to a 23-12 lead in the first quarter and never trailed, topping University for a second straight night, 62-48, in the District 8 3A championship game at U-Hi.
NC (11-12) will take on the Columbia Basin Big Nine top seed, either Kamiakin or Southridge, when the state tournament begins a week from today at Spokane Falls Community College.
The Indians’ biggest lead reached 49-32 near the end of the third quarter.
Aaron Antoine led NC with 24 points on 7-of-11 shooting. Gunnar Swagger made all five of his shots, including two 3-pointers, for 13. Zech Martin led U-Hi (16-7) with 20 and eight rebounds.