Yes it was cold, windy and wet Tuesday night but it wasn’t the fear of track practice that propelled Mariah Cunningham to have her best game.
After scoring 28 points and grabbing 13 rebounds that propelled Central Valley to a 65-61 win in overtime over visiting Mead in a winner-to-regional, loser-out game, Cunningham said, “You’ve got to get to regional to get to state. This was just a game you have to fight. I owed it to my teammates to help out this time.
“The team got me the ball inside in good position.”
The first regional game is at CV on Friday against Walla Walla (16-5). The winner plays Saturday against the Chiawana-Gonzaga Prep loser for a trip to state.
When the Bears (16-6) earned home-court advantage with a 71-66 double overtime win at Mead to close out the Greater Spokane League last week, Cunningham had seven points.
“She knew this could be her last game,” CV coach Freddie Rehkow said. “She knew it was play or go home. She didn’t play timid.”
The track standout who is going to play basketball at EWU was anything but timid with 13 points in the first quarter as the Bears opened an 11-0 lead and were up 18-8 at the quarter. She had 17 at the half, with CV nursing a 30-26 lead. She added six in the third quarter as the Bears maintained a 40-35 lead and had five clutch points down the stretch of the fourth quarter after sitting out almost 3 1/2 minutes with a sprained ankle.
In addition to Madison Hovren, the GSL’s leading scorer who finished with 21, the star when Cunningham was out was freshman Courtney Carolan, who swished a 3-pointer from the left corner and followed with two free throws to break a 44-44 tie.
But Delany Junkemier led the charge for the Panthers (15-7). The leading scorer for the defending state champions had one free throw through three quarters but hit three 3-pointers in the fourth quarter for 13 of her 16 points.
CV made just three of its last six free throws in the last half minute. Junkemier hit a 3 and Sue Winger’s rebound of a missed free throw and drive to the far lane for an easy jumper with 1.6 seconds left forced overtime at 57.
But in OT, the Bears scored the first four, including Lauren Simpson’s only basket, and Megan Dimmier had two free throws for the final points with 9.2 seconds left.
“We came out flat, that was our biggest problem,” Mead coach Quantae Anderson said. “We fought back and took the lead in the fourth quarter (41-40) but we couldn’t hold it. We turned the ball over too many times.”
Ashlyn Lewey kept the Panthers close with 15 of her 17 points through three quarters. The 6-foot-2 duo of Winger and Coreen Labish were critical in the comeback, scoring 13 and 10, respectively.
But in the end it was too much Cunningham.