Before the Connell girls basketball team defeated Columbia (Burbank) 46-31 in Saturday's SCAC winner-to-state district contest in Finley, there were a few questions on Dan Colby's mind.
First and foremost for the Eagles' veteran coach was: How do you turn a laughably miserable start into a positive finish?
The bad news for Colby was that Connell started the game by missing its first 14 shots and scored just one point in the first quarter, giving the Coyotes a 10-1 lead after eight minutes.
The good news for him was that he had exactly the team he needed to battle back.
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"This group hustles and plays defense with every team," Colby said. "At the beginning of the game, I was a little nervous. We didn't show great patience. But in general, as the game progressed we started to relax."
Connell (16-8) will make its fourth straight trip to the 1A state tournament, which begins Wednesday in Yakima.
"This is huge. We knew there were only three spots to state," said Eagles guard Sarah McGary, who scored a game-high 14 points and added 10 rebounds plus four assists.
"Sarah is the heart and soul of this team," Colby said. "But we got contributions from several players."
It took until 55 seconds into the second quarter for the Eagles to hit their first bucket, a short jumper in the key by Laryn Wells to make it 10-3.
But once they scored their first basket, the shots began to fall. A minute later, Brooke Gibbons hit a 3-pointer from the left wing to help spark an 18-6 run that put Connell up at the half 19-16 -- a lead that would hold up for good.
Burbank's state hopes took a hit when SCAC East MVP Tiffany Idler sprained her left ankle late in Thursday's 52-35 win over Golden-dale. She was questionable up until game time Saturday, according to Coyotes coach John Muchlinski.
Idler is usually a force inside, but at less than 100 percent, Connell was able to beat her to rebounds and force her to foul when caught out of position.
Idler drew her third foul less than two minutes into the second quarter and fouled out with 5:08 left to play. She finished with just four points and ended her career with 1,246.
"The biggest area we missed her is on defense. We gave up 23 offensive rebounds," Muchlinski said. "It's a sad day for the seniors who worked so hard through the years. But 20-4 is nothing to sneeze at."
Burbank saw its string of nine consecutive appearances at the 1A state tournament snapped.
Senior post Nicole Roberts picked up the slack for the Coyotes inside, scoring nine points and grabbing six rebounds.
"We knew we had to start strong to have any chance of winning," Roberts said. "But when they went on a second-quarter run and held us scoreless, everybody started to hang their heads."