In the closing seconds of Columbia Basin College’s 87-65 semifinal victory over defending champion Lane on Monday night, the Hawks student body starting chanting “Cheryl! Cheryl!”
That got the rest of the Toyota Center crowd joining in, and then the CBC women’s basketball players themselves did it in the locker room after the game.
Those chants were for CBC coach Cheryl Holden, who put together another solid team this season and has taken the team to the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges finals, where the Hawks will play Umpqua in today’s championship at 5:30 p.m.
An emotional Holden smiled, but would have none of it.
“They were way too nice,” she said. “I didn’t make any baskets out there. It was all the kids.”
Holden watched her kids struggle at the beginning, falling behind 13-3 at the outset before calling a timeout. The Titans made it 15-3 coming out of the timeout.
“I said nothing (in the timeout),” Holden said. “We were fine. There was lots of time. They were just a little tight at the beginning of the game.”
But the Hawks overcame that tightness by using what’s made them the top team in the entire NWAACC this season: defense.
Getting hands on passes, stealing balls, blocking out and holding Lane to just one shot each time down. Name it, the Hawks did it.
CBC exploded with a 19-3 run over the next six minutes, and the Hawks took the lead for good.
In fact, Holden turned to her assistant coaches and asked “Who was it tonight?”
In each of the first three games, it’s been two or three different players who have been key players in the turning point of the game.
Monday was no different.
This time it was Kellie Ross and Lacie French.
Ross hit two long 3-point field goals, and French added six points during the big 19-3 run.
As an added measure, both players closed out the first half with two treys each to turn a four-point lead into a 45-34 halftime advantage.
“I haven’t been shooting well the last couple of games,” said Ross, who finished with six 3-point field goals and 20 points. “But I have the green light from Coach. She told me before the game to keep shooting.”
As for French, she provided the hustle and spark the Hawks needed in the first half.
“It’s defense, defense, defense,” said French, who finished with 20 points and 11 rebounds. “It’s definitely not one person on this team, but everyone who can step up.”
Holden liked what she saw so much, she started French and substitute Lyndsay Oswalt in the second half.
Oswalt had another double-double coming off the bench, with 12 points and 13 rebounds. In fact starter Sydney Mercer, an All-East Region selection, picked up two quick fouls in the first minute of the game, got left out of the rotation for much of the contest.
“The other group was in the flow,” said Holden. “Sydney didn’t do anything wrong. I really belive in the flow of the game. They understand. Maybe they don’t like it.”
You couldn’t tell. Mercer was cheering wildly for her teammates.
In the second half, Lane cut the CBC lead to seven points. But that was as close as the Titans could get.
“That was the most complete team we’ve faced by far,” said Lane coach Greg Sheley. “That’s why they’ve been ranked No. 1 this season.”
Asked what he was concerned about before the game, Sheley responded “What weren’t we concerned about? They had balance and their defense was strong. I just hoped they didn’t shoot that well.”
UMPQUA 85, BLUE MOUNTAIN 68: For 20 minutes, the Blue Mountain women stayed with the high-octane Riverhawks of Umpqua.
Only a 3-point field goal at the halftime buzzer by Rachel Sample gave Umpqua a 36-33 lead.
So Riverhawks head coach Dave Stricklin, he of the 700-plus career coaching victories, went into the locker room and sat there for a second. He wasn’t going to say anything to his players.
“They quit listening to me three weeks ago,” he said. “I just go in there to talk to hear myself. They know what to do. We needed to get into the locker room, get out and let them shoot.”
Indeed, the Riverhawks came out in the second half and shot lights out, going on an 11-3 run to open the second half for a 50-38 lead to put the game away.
“We hear him talk,” said Umpqua sharpshooter Kyndal Charleston, who finished with 25 points, including six 3-point field goals. “But we already know what to do.”
Umpqua was just too much for the upstart Timberwolves, making their first-ever semifinals appearance.
“We have a lot of offensive options,” said Stricklin. “If they want to run, we can go bigger. If they go bigger, we can run. I thought they shot really well in the first half. We said they wouldn’t shoot that well in the second half. Get a hand in their face.”
Blue Mountain Coach Christy Martin said Umpqua was just too consistent in everything they did.
“We were emphasizing getting on (Charleston),” she said. “You have to get a hand in her face. We made an adjustment with our press, but it didn’t work.”
Mar’Shay Moore led the Timberwolves with 26 points.