The line between a state trip and staying home was never narrower than it was Friday night at University High.
The Titans claimed a spot in next week’s State 3A tournament in Tacoma with a thrilling, come-from-behind, 55-52 overtime victory over Seattle’s Holy Name Academy in their round-of-16 matchup.
“It seemed a little surreal,” said U-Hi coach Mark Stinson, whose Titans led at halftime despite shooting just 25 percent. “They had a lot nerves as well. They are a young team.”
But there was one thing everyone could agree on. Kayleigh Valley showed her age.
“She’s a difference-maker,” Stinson said of the lone senior to start for either team in the first-round, loser-out game
Valley, a 5-foot-11 guard who also plays inside, scored a game-high 24 points. She grabbed 13 rebounds, nine on the offensive glass. She made two game-clinching free throws with 1.7 seconds left in overtime.
And she passed the credit.
“Once they double-teamed me,” said Valley, who is headed to Missoula next year to play for Montana, “it left my teammates open on the outside. They hit the open shots.”
Freshman Kaitlin Pannell came off the bench to score 10 points, eight of those in overtime as the Titans (14-10) ran plays to isolate her against Holy Names’ 5-11 junior Cici West. The run included a layup with 51 seconds left that gave U-Hi the lead for good.
“We saw a little mismatch there,” Stinson said, as the 5-9 Pannell took advantage, attacking the basket on four consecutive possessions.
And another freshman, Brooke Bailey, came up big at the start of the second half, scoring six of her 10 points to keep U-Hi close.
But the biggest contribution, non-Valley edition, came from junior guard McKenzie Peterson.
“Some kids made some clutch shots,” Stinson said. “McKenzie got some open looks, got her balance and knocked those down.”
With the Titans down two, 45-43, and 4.7 seconds left in regulation, Pannell grabbed a missed free throw, passed to Valley and she sent it forward to Peterson. Her bank shot from 15 was perfect at the buzzer.
“I knew time was running down and we had two people open,” Valley said. “She was just inside the arc and she banked it in.”
The Cougars, who finish the season 20-7, led 41-33 with about 13 minutes to play. But after Valley scored on a drive, Holy Names changed defenses, playing a box-and-one on the senior. It freed others.
Peterson, who hadn’t hit a shot at that point, responded with two 3-pointers and U-Hi went on a 12-4 run to finish regulation.
“When she made her first one, everyone felt better,” Stinson said. “When she made the second one, I think everyone started to believe.”
The Titans might have won it in regulation if not for a muscle cramp Valley suffered with 50 seconds left.
She had to go to the bench and her replacement missed both free throws.
“It did not feel too good,” said Valley, who was perfect on 14 charity attempts.
Yet she returned just seconds later. For U-Hi, that was a good thing. After Valley made her final two free throws with 1.7 seconds on the OT clock, the Cougars got an open look for a tying 3 from sophomore Camariah King, who had a team-high 22 points.
But her shot was off and the Titans had earned a trip to Tacoma.