When the Pasco girls or Walla Walla boys were in crunch time this season, all eyes focused upon the players selected as this year’s Herald All-Area basketball MVPs.
With the game on the line, juniors Danielle Walter of the Bulldogs and Gary Winston of the Blue Devils were their team’s go-to players, and more often than not, they delivered.
They played large roles on a pair of district champions and in leading their teams to the 4A state tournaments.
“The biggest thing that she did for us was she was just our leader,” said Pasco coach Steve Davis, who was named the All-Area girls coach of the year by a panel of Herald sportswriters.
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“Everyone trusted her when she had the ball in her hands. She would make something happen, and she started to develop that takeover mentality in a game. There’d be that one- or two-minute part of the game where she was willing to do that.”
Walter averaged only 10.8 points per game during Pasco’s undefeated regular season but came alive in the postseason in leading the Bulldogs to CBBN district and 4A Eastern Regional titles.
In six games, she averaged 16.8 ppg, and she averaged a tournament-best 5.2 assists in being named the regional tournament MVP.
She credits much of her improvement this season to Davis, who led Pasco to 26 consecutive wins to open the season before back-to-back losses at state ended their year.
“He knows the game better than almost anyone I know,” Walter said. “He and I connect because we both play the same position. He was a point guard too, so no matter how good I’m doing, he always had out some little thing for me to work on that would make me better.”
Joining Walter on the All-Area first team are a pair of Moses Lake standouts, senior Carly Noyes and sophomore Jordan Loera, along with Hanford junior Laura Hughes and Othello senior Allison Walker.
Winston’s all-around game is what made his MVP selection easy for the Herald panel. He led the Blue Devils in scoring at 16.1 ppg, but he also was the CBBN Cascade’s Defensive Player of the Year.
“He kind of has a knack of making it look effortless,” said Wa-Hi coach John Golden. “He’s pretty special. He’s a great kid who works hard, and he’s a competitor. I think this year, the last 10 or 12 games when we started playing well as a team, it’s because he got more people involved.”
Winston’s favorite moment came in the regional semifinal win over Lewis & Clark that clinched Wa-Hi’s first state berth since 2004.
“It was a real big game, not just for us but for the community,” he said. “I’m thankful for the personal accolades, but they’re not my main goal. I just have one goal, and that’s always to go to state and compete there. High school is where you make good friends and memories of getting to state every year.”
The Tri-Cities Prep boys not only made it to state this year in the 1B ranks, but they earned the ultimate prize — winning the school’s first state championship in any sport.
Coach Joe Perez was honored as boys coach of the year for leading the Jaguars back from a district semifinal loss to seven consecutive victories, culiminating in a 48-41 victory over Moses Lake Christian in the state final.
“This just means our program is reaching my goal of becoming a successful program at Prep,” Perez said. “This is recognizing that accomplishment.”
Winston headlines a first team that includes three fellow All-CBBN first-team selections — Southridge senior Andrew Mendenhall, Richland sophomore Calvin Douglas and Moses Lake senior Josh Loera — along with Liberty Christian senior Mark Wilson.