KENNEWICK -- Columbia Basin College's Jennifer Noon stood in the hallway underneath the Toyota Center bleachers with a smile on her face.
"Let's keep it in the East!" she exclaimed after the CBC women held off Chemeketa 53-44 in the first semifinal at the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges women's basketball tournament Monday.
Noon got what she wanted, as Yakima Valley followed up with a 59-47 win over Walla Walla, giving Yaks coach Cody Butler his third consecutive trip to the women's final.
The two teams, which split their season series with one another, will meet at the Toyota Center at 5:30 p.m. today for the title.
Never miss a local story.
For the Hawks (28-2), the win was sweet redemption after last season's tournament, when they were favored to make the final but fell short in the semifinals to Walla Walla.
And for a while there, it started looking like deja vu.
CBC, which had beaten Chemeketa twice during the regular season, led 30-26 at halftime.
But it could have been a much bigger lead if the Hawks hadn't missed so many easy layups.
"It was making me nervous after what happened against Walla Walla last year," said CBC sophomore Tiffany Idler, who finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds. "But we got some stops on defense."
That was the key, said CBC coach Cheryl Holden.
"All year long we just focused on ways to make scoring runs and to stop other people's runs," said Holden. "At halftime I told our team to don't change anything on defense."
Good thing, because defense would be what won this game.
CBC did open the second half with a 6-2 run, as Lacey Young sank a jumper and Noon added a basket and two free throws.
Her last free throw happened with 17:36 to play in the game and CBC leading 36-28. The Hawks wouldn't score for another 8 minutes.
"I knew it had been quite a while," Holden said. "But we kept getting defensive stops."
The Storm did score in that time -- Hannah Frederick had a free throw, Kayla Cueller added a basketball and Janelle Weiss sank a 3-point field goal to cut the CBC lead to 36-34 -- before Noon ended the dry spell with a basket of her own.
Still, Chemeketa wouldn't go away, and when Lauren Codling scored a basket off an assist from Chantell Stanton, the game was tied at 40-all with 6:40 to play.
Enter Noon and her late-game heroics.
She answered quickly for the Hawks with a offensive rebound putback.
The Hawks then forced a turnover and put the dagger in the Storm's heart with a trey after Idler found Noon out on the 3-point line. The lefthander calmly let the ball fly, where it hit nothing but net.
"Time was running down (on the shot clock)," said Idler, who almost no-looked the pass from inside the key out to Noon. "Jennifer is our go-to shooter out there. She and Ana (Jimenez)."
Noon was ready.
"Tiffany is a champion," said Noon, who finished with 20 points. "I love that girl. I was open and my feet were set."
Chemeketa coach Jesse Ailstock, whose team plays Walla Walla today for third-place, said that was the shot that hurt his team.
"We come back from being 8 or 9 points down," said Ailstock. "We get back in it, they get an offensive putback, then force a turnover, and then that big 3. That was a real emotional swing. A few possessions here or there was the difference in the game tonight."
The Hawks would go on a 9-0 run to put the game away. Young's layup off a Katherin Samuels pass and then an Idler driving scoop completed the run and the victory.
Codling led the Storm (21-7) with 19 points and 12 rebounds. Chemeketa's leading scorer, Janelle Weiss, was held to just three points on 1-for-10 shooting. She also had six turnovers, as the Samuels, Jimenez and Debbie Molsbarger at one time or another worked to keep her away from the basket.
"Our defense," said Noon, "is what saved us in the end."
YAKIMA VALLEY 59, WALLA WALLA 47
Monday's second semifinal was a rematch from last year's title game.
It resembled a prizefight. Not that there was any slugging going on. It's just that YVC pulled away from Walla Walla three times, only to have the Warriors each time get to within a few possessions.
In the end, though, the Yaks (22-7) were just too much for the Warriors (22-6).
Brittany Newcomb was one of three YVC players in double-figure scoring, leading the way with 15 points.
Simone Jordan added 12 points and 10 rebounds, while Kayla Gonzales had 11 points.
"This game proves that championship caliber teams can win with mental focus," Butler said. "It was a mentally tough game."
It had to be, as these two teams met three times during the regular season, with Walla Walla winning two of them.
"When you meet for a fourth time, you start talking about the third and fourth option on your offensive plays," said Butler. "(WWCC coach) Bobbi (Hazeltine) is such an amazing coach. She could win at any level."
It didn't look good for the Warriors at first.
Gonzales opened the game with back-to-back treys for the Yaks, who were up 13-1 seven minutes into the game.
"We were doing nothing different," said Newcomb. "We just were trying to come out with some extra energy."
The Warriors fought back, though, and by halftime YVC only led 25-20.
Again, though, the Yaks opened the half on fire with a 13-2 run and a 38-22 lead. Once again, the Warriors responded with a 12-2 run of their own as YVC led 40-34 with 11:31 to play.
The Yaks exploded for a third time -- an 8-0 run, with four points from Newcomb for a 48-34 lead -- and this time, Walla Walla could not answer.
"My kids played so hard," said Hazeltine. "They wanted to get back to the championship. I've got a pretty upset locker room in there right now."
Tai Jensen led Walla Walla with 16 points and eight rebounds, while Leslie Stillar added 11 points.
Bellevue 71, Centralia 49
TyShana Burgess had 21 points as Bellevue eliminated West Region champion Centralia and earned a matchup against Umpqua in a battle for seventh place.
Umpqua 98, Clark 94
Kristen Smith had 20 points and 11 rebounds to head a balanced attack for Umpqua. Deborah Simmers led the Penguins' effort with 34 points.
Skagit Valley 84, Lane 83
Laken McClelland's free throws in the final seconds moved Skagit Valley into today's fifth-place game.
Clackamas 85, Blue Mountain 65
Jenny Johnson and Sam McCloud had 19 points apiece as Clackamas cruised to the fifth-place game.