KENNEWICK -- Sometimes 9.4 seconds can last a lifetime. Just ask Columbia Basin College point guard Katherine Samuels. Or CBC coach Cheryl Holden.
Or any fan attending Tuesday night's women's championship game in the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges basketball tournament in the Toyota Center.
They'll tell you.
The Hawks led the entire way in the title game.
But a 15-point halftime lead over their East Region rivals, the Yakima Valley Community College Yaks, slowly evaporated over time in the second half.
CBC, trying to hang on for dear life, had a 60-59 lead when Samuels was fouled and sent to the free-throw line with 9.4 seconds remaining in the contest.
As close to 1,000 fans in attendance held their collective breath, Samuels -- not a very good free-throw shooter, with a 42 percent success rate -- missed the front end of a 1-and-1 situation.
Yakima's Brittney Newcomb grabbed the rebound and weaved her way through the CBC players downcourt as the clocked ticked away.
Samuels watched helplessly as first Newcomb's shot missed, then Kayla Gonzales' desperation shot -- she released it with just one-tenth of a second left -- missed and the ball fell helplessly to the court.
Bedlam ensued, at least on the CBC end of the court. YVC's distraught players fell to the floor or into their chairs and began sobbing.
In a championship game -- especially between two fierce rivals -- there is going to be a winner, a loser, and a lot of emotion.
Either way, you know that tears are going to be shed when it's all over.
For CBC, there were tears of happiness.
"I'm not an emotional person but ...," said CBC's Tiffany Idler, biting her lip, "I cried."
So did sophomore teammate Ana Jimenez.
"This is amazing, and I love it," she said. "But I cried. This is the last year I'll ever play."
Samuels, of course, felt relief.
"It made me feel a lot better (about my missed free throw), because I was going to be heartbroken if they made that shot," said Samuels, a freshman. "I was thinking 'Please don't let (YVC's) shot go in. My coach is gonna kill me.' "
Hardly. Samuels was named the tournament MVP for her four-game performance.
And anyway, Holden had said last Thursday that even if her Hawks (29-2) never won another game during the tournament, she already was a happy woman with how her team performed this season.
"Tonight, though, I'm ecstatic," Holden said.
Standing off to the side of the celebration was Andrea Bland, a starter on last year's team as a freshman and one of two team captains for the Hawks this season -- along with Idler.
Bland was the leader of this squad, pushing her teammates through the tedious weightlifting sessions in the offseason, through the 2-hour practices.
But it had all ended for her in January, when she tore an anterior cruciate ligament in one of her knees during practice. Her teammates picked up the slack the rest of the way.
She sat on the bench with her teammates the rest of the season, and Tuesday night she was all smiles.
"I don't even know what to say," Bland said. "They wanted this from the very beginning of the season."
Reminded that she was part of the team, she responded, "Yes. It is 'we.' We wanted it from the very beginning."
CBC's sophomores had a point to prove.
Last season, the Hawks were ranked No. 1 during most of the year and were heavy favorites to win the 2011 tournament title.
But they staggered in the semifinals, losing to Walla Walla and settling for third.
This season was going to be different.
"We knew we were going to win from the start," said CBC starter Lacey Young.
"They kept telling me that this season," said Holden of her players. "It wasn't a cockiness. It was a 'we're gonna work so hard thing that we're going to do it.' They believed in themselves."
Underneath the stands in the hallway, YVC coach Cody Butler fought back tears when he recounted what he said to his girls in the locker room afterward.
"First I told them that YVC is a special program," said Butler, who has coached his team to three consecutive title game appearances. "And the girls here are special because of what they went through last year."
Just before last season's tournament, YVC freshman Hannah Cordova was killed in a car accident. Cordova's father, Bob, told Hannah's teammates that she would want them to continue playing.
The Yaks won last year's tournament.
"I tried to make them focus on the relationships we created," Butler said. "That here, you're gonna be friends for life."
CBC's Jennifer Noon could understand that.
She spent the last two games trying to run the court with a hip flexor injury. Despite that, she made the all-tournament team, along with Idler and Samuels.
Despite the injury, "I have never felt this good in my entire life," Noon said.
Noon looked at her teammates walking off the floor, smiled and said, "They are 12 of the best friends I will ever have for the rest of my life."
-- Jeff Morrow: 509-582-1507; firstname.lastname@example.org