KENNEWICK -- The golden ball trophy is headed back to Pasco.
For the third time in eight years, Columbia Basin College's women's basketball team won the title at the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges tournament at the Toyota Center, defeating Yakima Valley 60-59 on Tuesday night.
It was an emotional rollercoaster ride of a game, but in the end a satisfying win for the Hawks, who finished the season 29-2.
"The first (title in 2005) was sweet," CBC coach Cheryl Holden said. "The second one (in 2008) was sweet too. But this one ... now this group has really raised the bar."
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Tuesday's game was the third matchup between the East Region rivals this year, with the visitor winning at the other's court during the regular season.
Nothing comes easy between these two teams.
And even when the Hawks took a 42-27 lead into halftime, no one thought it was over.
"Fifteen points isn't very much," said YVC coach Cody Butler, whose team finished 23-8. "As bad as we played, or as good as they played in the first half, we told our players that 15 points is nothing."
What surprised Butler was how CBC got the lead so big in the first place.
It happened because CBC freshman point guard Katherine Samuels picked apart the Yaks' defense with precision-like efficiency.
Samuels, voted tournament MVP after the game, had seven assists in the first half alone as the Hawks scored eight of their baskets on easy layups.
"We just did what coach told us to, and that was find the player in the open spot," Samuels said.
It was an 18-5 CBC run midway through the first half that was the difference.
Tiffany Idler had six points in the run, while Ana Jimenez added five.
The Hawks looked unbeatable in those first 20 minutes, holding YVC to 32 percent shooting (9-for-28).
"I've always heard that defense wins championships," said Jimenez, who helped contain YVC leading scorer Brittney Newcomb for most of the game. "But I didn't believe it until I came to CBC."
But this is Columbia Basin vs. Yakima Valley, and nothing is for sure.
"With Yakima in this game and how fast things can turn around, 10 points will turn things just like that," Holden said.
YVC's Simone Jordan came out on fire in the second half, scoring seven points as the Yaks opened on a 17-4 run with 13:39 to play. Just like that, CBC's 42-27 lead had diminished to a 46-44 advantage.
"They were going to make their run," said Holden. "But I knew we were going to make our run."
Led by Lacey Young and reserve Crysta Reynolds, the Hawks fought back to get their lead back up to 57-48 with 6:51 to play.
The Yaks, the defending champs, fought back with one last run. And when Jordan sank another trey with 23.5 seconds left, CBC led just 60-59.
CBC tried to play keep-away, but Samuels was fouled with 9.4 seconds left, forcing a bonus 1-and-1 situation.
Samuels, who is just a 42 percent free throw shooter, missed the free throw.
YVC's Newcomb grabbed the rebound, but both she and teammate Kayla Gonzales couldn't convert in those final seconds, and the Hawks were celebrating.
"In high school (Lapwai, Idaho) I won two state titles with my team," said Samuels, who finished with 10 assists. "But this is 10 times better."
Her teammates and Holden know that Samuels was a big key.
"She is the perfect point guard," said CBC's Jennifer Noon, who along with Idler and Samuels were named to the all-tournament team. "She is the most selfless point guard I have ever played with."
"I will go back and watch each film from this tournament," said Holden. "Kat controlled the tempo of this game amazingly. She knew exactly what I wanted. I think her game went up over this tournament."
Jordan finished with 22 points for YVC, while Newcomb added 12. Both were named to the all-tournament team.
Idler finished with a team-high 18 points and nine rebounds, while Young had 14 points and Jimenez 13. Noon, hampered by a hip flexor injury, could only muster four points, but she still grabbed eight rebounds.
And she was part of a big CBC victory, as were all of the Hawks.
"I'm just ecstatic," said Holden. "We've got a lot of celebrating to do."
Bellevue 68, Umpqua 45
Sanda Milovic had 16 points and seven rebounds for Bellevue, Brooklyn Norman had five boards to go with her team-high 10 points for Umpqua and the Bulldogs finished seventh with a win against the Riverhawks.
Clackamas 101, Skagit Valley 88
Makesha Bizon shot 9-for-13 from the
3-point range and finished with a game-high 31 points to guide Clackamas to fifth place in a contest against Skagit Valley. Jessica Denmon led the Cardinals with 29 points.
Walla Walla 71, Chemeketa 69
Walla Walla's Alex Pfefferle had the game-high total with 27 points, but it was Sienna Edmunson's free throws inside of the final 2 seconds that iced the victory as the Warriors weathered the Storm to take third place in the women's finals.