Given a first-time second chance in the State 1B girls basketball tournament, Colton High School decided to run with it.
All the way to another championship game.
Now, the Wildcats find themselves in position to not only win a third consecutive state title, but to become the first team to win a championship after suffering a first-round defeat. And the Almira/Coulee-Hartline team that hung that 45-43 loss on them at Walla Walla High on Feb. 25 is the same one they will face in this afternoon’s final that tips off a 3 at the Arena.
Colton (24-2) advanced to its fourth straight title game by holding off Sunnyside Christian 40-35 in the first of Friday’s semifinals, while the Warriors (24-2) earned their shot at a championship by dumping Columbia (Hunters) 64-49 in the nightcap.
The rematch is the result of a new tournament format adopted by the WIAA that pits top district seeds against each other in the first round, with the losers getting a chance to play on – which is what happened to two-time defending champion Colton.
And none of the players and coaches involved in tonight’s final – even those from ACH, which is the first team that has had to beat the same team twice at state to lay claim to the championship – seems to have a problem with the new setup.
“It does seem kind of strange when you think about it,” Warriors coach Mike Correia said. “But, really, while that first win (over Colton) was great for us, it seemed more like just another district game, because it didn’t advance our position at all.
“All it did was put us in separate brackets once we got to Spokane.”
Nikki Osborne, ACH’s senior center who scored a game-high 21 points in the Warriors’ win over Columbia, echoed her coach’s sentiments.
“The first time we played them, I wasn’t nervous at all, which seemed really weird,” she said. “We all went out there thinking it was just another game and the outcome doesn’t mean anything because we still have the games in Spokane, even if we lose.”
As for having to deal with Wildcats for a second time, Osborne added: “I think some teams deserve a second chance. There are great teams out there that can have an off night, and giving them another chance to prove themselves is a good thing.”
Colton coach Clark Vining and his girls are understandably elated with getting a state tournament reprieve and making the most of it.
“Once you get to the state championship, you really don’t care who you play, because it’s such a great feeling just to get there,” he said. “But, yeah, we like getting another chance at (the Warriors) for sure, especially after losing to them just a week ago by two.
“Hopefully that will be a little added motivation for us.”
Vining said the first-round loss to Almira/Coulee-Hartline didn’t really have a state tournament feel to it.
“I know they call that state,” he said, “but I still look at it as a regional, because it was played at Wa-Hi. This is state here, and I have to give credit to the WIAA, because if you’re a top seed you get two chances to make it.”
As for Osborne, she said she is already starting to feel the nerves as she awaits the title-game rematch.
“It’s going to be a great game,” she said.
And this time, there will be no second chances.