The early returns were disappointing for the Trailblazers here at Michael Smith Gymnasium on Wednesday but they didn’t panic. They just adjusted.
That’s how Centralia College was able to erase an 11-point first-half deficit and turn it into an 11 point victory to the tune of 68-57 over Lower Columbia College in a clash of top tier women’s basketball talent from the Northwest Athletic West Conference.
“We were a little too jacked up. We tried. The pregame was not a typical raw-raw-raw. It was definitely to keep them calm,” Centralia College coach Caleb Sells said. “These girls wanted this game bad but in those first few minutes we just made some uncharacteristic mistakes.”
The Red Devils led 6-0 right out of the chute and held a 24-13 edge halfway through the second quarter. Cherita Daugherty Lower Columbia from start to finish and wound up with 16 points and nine assists in the contest.
The Blazers were able to head to the locker room at the half trailing by just three points, thanks to some hot shooting from outside by Rachel Wilkerson and some tough points in the paint from Piper Cai.
Centralia maintained that momentum through the intermission and scored the first 10 points of the second half in order to take a 34-26 lead. Caitlin Yenne scored the first seven points of the second half herself to keep the Blazers on the path to victory.
“We made a little adjustment in our zone. Little shoutout to Shane Schutz. We haven’t run it all year and I stole it from when he was head coach here and, well, that’s what sparked us in the third quarter,” Sells said.
The Blazers knocked down 11 of 24 3-point shots in the contest including 8 of 11 long range looks in the second half.
“The ‘make more threes’ plan has been in the works for about three or four months now,” noted Sells. “Lindsey Nurmi was 4 of 5 from 3, that was huge. Rachel (Wilkerson) hit two big ones in the first half. Megan (Cash) with 18 points from a kid who probably averages six or seven a game, she really stepped up tonight.”
Indeed, Cash caught fire from all over the court in the second half to post those game-high 18 points. She also dished five assists.
Yenne finished the contest with 15 points and six rebounds while Nurmi notched a dozen points and five assists. Selena Cudney grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds.
“They didn’t shoot the ball well in the first half and they shot 100 percent in the second half and that’s the difference. Some of that was our poor rotations and some of that was just them getting hot,” said LCC coach Lucas Myers. “They’ve got a group of sophomores who have played a lot of basketball, and played a lot of basketball as freshmen. That’s something that we’re still working on with a group of 10 freshmen.”
Madison Mosier added 10 points and Tommia Pakootas added nine points for the Red Devils.
“That was a fun game as frustrating as it was,” Myers said. “It’s been like that before Caleb and I got here as well. Back when Chad (Meadors) and Shane (Schutz) were battling. You know, we’re 40 minutes away. Caleb and I are friends but at the same time you want to lace it up and get after them.”
The win gives Centralia (8-0 conference) the inside track to a West Conference championship. Lower Columbia remains in second place at 6-2 in conference play.
Sells was relieved to be able to notch two wins against an LCC program that is always pesky.
“They are a huge team and we had to run a zone and when you do that sometimes you’re going to give up some threes. In the first quarter they hit five and the rest of the game they hit six so the odds kind of played out in our favor,” Sells noted.
Centralia will host Pierce on Saturday at 5 p.m. for their “Hall of Fame” game.
Centralia College put up their best effort here on Wednesday but wound up one point short in both halves as they fell 75-73 to Lower Columbia College in NWAC men’s basketball action.
After leading for much of the first half, and then again momentarily with about ten minutes remaining in the contest, the Blazers found themselves trailing by ten points and time running short. It was at that point that Centralia coach Jason Moir called timeout in order to gather his charges for some real talk.
“At that timeout around that six minute mark we told our guys, ‘How do you want to go out? Do you want to go out fighting or do you just want to let them have it?’ And they answered that. They came back and that shows a lot about who they are,” Moir said.
Taylor Peppinger was instrumental in the comeback attempt as he sank back-to-back three pointers to bring the Trailblazers back within striking distance. Then, with 12 seconds left in the game Kobe Matsen drilled a three from the top of the key to get the Blazers within one point. After the Red Devils knocked down one of two free throws Centralia was able to get a clean look at the basket from point blank range as time expired but the shot scraped orange paint instead of tickling the twine and sent the teams to the ceremonial handshake line.
Matsen scored a game-high 23 points to lead Centralia. Peppinger added 14 points and nine rebounds while Jerry boston notched 13 points and three assists.
Lower Columbia coach Mickey Polis said he never felt comfortable even with a double digit lead and less than five minutes left on the clock.
“No. Not at all. With Peppinger and Matsen and then Jerry Boston, they can get hot at any time,” Polis said. “When the other team hits 12 threes and you only hit five you’ve just got to grind it out.”
Peppinger, who was four of ten from downtown, also earned a nod from his head coach.
“He struggled in the first half. I want to say he was one for five to start the game but he finished out and did a great job,” Moir said. “With him stepping up and hitting the shots that he’s capable of hitting it’s definitely nice to have a kid like that who can shoot the ball.”
Moir also pointed out that his team simply made too many mistakes, like turnovers and missed layins, to be able to win a close game against a top tier opponent like LCC.
“It’s a physicality thing. We have to adjust physically for their team. I want to say that all five of their guys are sophomores and you can see that they get after it. There’s a reason that Samaad (Hector) is leading the NWAC in offensive rebounds and why that team is leading the NWAC.”
The Red Devils bested the Blazers 43-30 on the glass with Hector grabbing a game-high 15 boards while posting a team-high 19 points. Cody Young, a product of Adna, added 13 points including a string of high pressure free throws down the stretch for the Red Devils.
“Cody has made enormous strides from first year to second year. You see that a lot with community college basketball. Between your freshman and sophomore year that’s when the light really comes on and the game starts to slow down a little bit,” Polis said. “The thing I really like about Cody is he’s a fearless young man. He’ll just stick his nose in the cracks. He leads the team not necessarily with his voice but with his actions. Because he plays so hard everyone else wants to play hard.”
In spite of the tough luck loss Moir was feeling optimistic about his team’s progress thus far and their chances going forward.
“We’re on a four game losing streak and tonight, even though we lost, I feel like we were right there,” Moir said. “Right now nobody likes to lose but how are we going to handle it and what choices are we going to make while we’re losing. If we can keep seeing this to finish out these next six games I like where we stand.”
Centralia (3-5 conference) will host Pierce on Saturday at 7 p.m. for their “Hall of Fame” game.