This season was about unfinished business for the Central Valley girls basketball team.
Third consecutive undefeated regular season? Check.
Breeze through regionals? Check.
Second state title in three seasons, winning the championship game by 31 points? Check.
The final test for a generational team in its historic season? How about a national championship?
Following a rough third quarter which saw a 10-point halftime lead evaporate, Lexie Hull scored 13 of her 26 points in the fourth and Central Valley beat Hamilton Heights of Tennessee 66-61 to win the GEICO Nationals title game at Christ the King HS in New York on Saturday.
This is the second consecutive season Hamilton Heights has lost in the title game.
“This was a reward for all the time and hard work the girls have put in this season,” Central Valley coach Freddie Rehkow said via telephone from the airport Saturday afternoon as the Bears were about to board their flight back to Spokane.
“It was a big win against a big team.”
Hull, the two-time Gatorade girls state player of the year and 2017-18 Associated Press state POY, added 10 rebounds and was 11 off 11 from the line, including 6 of 6 in her final high school basketball quarter.
The Bears (29-0) made 21 of 22 free-throw attempts in a physical game, with one player fouling out and five others accumulating four fouls apiece.
Camryn Skaife added 14 points on 4-of-7 3-point shooting and Lacie Hull, the Seattle Times co-POY with her sister, contributed nine points with eight rebounds.
The Hull twins, who are headed to Stanford, and fellow senior Hailey Christopher, an Idaho Vandals recruit, finished their four years of high school basketball with one loss in their final three seasons and a 102-6 overall record.
The championship game was the Bears’ closest contest of the season, topping an 11-point win over Idaho 5A State champ Post Falls in December.
Central Valley had a rough trip just getting to New York for the tournament with scheduling and travel delays. Once at the hotel, they heard some comments in the lobby about the little team from the West Coast.
“It lit a fire under our girls to pull it together and bring it home,” Rehkow said. “Winning was validation against such strong national competition.”
Central Valley led 36-26 at intermission, but Hamilton Heights didn’t go down easy.
Staging a furious comeback with stifling defense, Hamilton Heights (25-3) tied it at 41 on a layup by Jazmine Massengill with 1 minute, 19 seconds left in the third. A pair of free throws by Massengill a moment later gave the Hawks their first lead since 3-2.
Massengill, who will play at Tennessee next season, finished with 32 points and six assists.
Central Valley turned it over 10 times in the third quarter and Hamilton Heights outscored the Bears 17-5 in the frame.
Suffering perhaps their toughest quarter of the season, the undefeated Washington state champions responded.
After the quarter break, Christopher (seven points) made a free throw, Tomekia Whitman hit a layup off a nice feed from Lexie Hull, then Hull popped a short jumper off an assist from Lacie Hull for a six-point run.
Lacie Hull made a pair of free throws to put the Bears up 50-45 with 5:11 left. She then drilled a 3-pointer next trip down and CV made a 12-2 run at the start of the fourth.
Hamilton Heights recovered from the spurt and CV started to scramble a little bit.
Rehkow called timeout with 1:52, up 57-52.
“I wanted to remind them to trust the process, do what we do, and finish strong,” Rehkow said.
“I told them that we worked too hard to let it slip away.”
On the inbound play back from the timeout, CV appeared trapped in the backcourt, but after a loose-ball scramble Lexie Hull broke deep for a layup and a 59-53 lead with 1:20 left.
HH’s Treasure Hunt buried a long 3, though, to make it a two-point game with 69 seconds left.
Lexie Hull went hard to the hoop and drew a foul on 6-foot-7 Camilla Cardozo – her fifth – and Hull drilled both free throws to make it 61-57 with 51 seconds to go. Lacie Hull grabbed the defensive rebound on the responding possession by HH.
Lexie Hull went back to the line and made both to put the Bears up 63-57 with 27.7 to go.
Hamilton Heights got a pair of free throws from Massengill, then a layup on a steal by Esmery Martinez, and CV led 63-61 with 15.3 seconds left with possession.
But CV broke the press and Skaife found Lexie Hull underneath for an easy layup. Hull’s three-point play was icing on the cake and sealed a national championship.