ROCHESTER — The Beavers had a lead in the final minute, but just couldn’t close the door on No. 3 Montesano Saturday night in the championship game of the 1A District 4 girls basketball tournament.
The physically-imposing Bulldogs (19-1) made the most of their second chances in the second half, turning around a nine-point third-quarter deficit to cut down the nets with a 38-35 win.
Two-time 1A Evergreen League MVP Paige Lisherness put Montesano on her back in the second half, scoring 12 of her game-high 16 points and adding 14 rebounds — more than half of which came on the offensive end.
“They’re a tough matchup for us. Their whole team’s a tough matchup for us,” Tenino coach Scott Ashmore said. “But we battled. We were right where we needed to be.”
Megan Letts scored 11 and Ashley Schow added eight points and 14 boards to pace Tenino, which was facing Montesano for the third time in three weeks. Much like their Feb. 4 matchup — a 51-43 Bulldog win — Tenino had a one-possession lead going into the fourth quarter.
“We played hard for four quarters,” Ashmore said. “We missed a couple little 2-footers there in the second half that would have made the difference, and a couple free throws. We didn’t get a lot of them.”
Montesano, on the other hand, spent plenty of time on the foul line, where it went 14 of 29.
The Beavers went to a 1-2-2 zone in the second half to keep the ball out of Lisherness’ hands. The strategy worked, but made rebounding more difficult for the mostly-undersided Beavers.
“When she rebounds, that’s where it hurts when we’re in our zone, and that’s where we got hurt,” Ashmore said. “We’re not big to begin with, and we got little girls down there trying to battle to get rebounds.”
With just under a minute to go, Montesano missed a pair of 3-pointers but grabbed the ricochet off each one, finally getting the ball to Lisherness for a mid-range jumper. That bucket put the Bulldogs up 34-33 with 48 seconds to go, a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Tenino turned the ball over in the backcourt on its next possession, and three quick free throws from Montesano pushed the lead to 37-33 with 27 seconds to go. Grace Vestal kept the Beavers in it with a bucket, and after another free throw from Lisherness made it 38-35 Tenino had one last chance with 9.6 seconds to go.
The Beavers, though, had the ball knocked away and had to rush up one final, unsuccessful 3-pointer with .4 seconds on the clock.
“It’s a hard one,” Ashmore said with a chuckle. “If we’d had like a second and a half, maybe we could have really drawn something up.”
The good news for Tenino, though, is they could wind up with another shot at the 1A Evergreen League champions. The Beavers (17-6) had already qualified for the regional round of the state playoffs — their first state appearance since 2012, which was also their last district finals appearance.
“We were right where we wanted to be. We’ve earned this,” Ashmore said. “We told the girls, everything from here on out, this is fun. We worked really hard for 20 games, now we’re into the playoffs. Now it’s the fun part.”
And, despite the loss, another matchup with the Bulldogs was a good tuneup for regionals.
“They play a certain style that’s going to help us,” Ashmore said. “When you get into regionals, you’re going to face teams like that, and we’ve got to be able to handle that.”
Tenino will learn its regional matchup on Sunday afternoon, when the WIAA’s playoff brackets are released.