BENTON CITY -- Kiona-Benton girls basketball coach Joe Wirtzberger knew this season's team had a chance to be special.
With five returning seniors and talented players in the other classes, Wirtzberger decided to host a summer league in Benton City to provide his team with much-needed games against higher competition.
The league featured Class 3A schools Kamiakin, Kennewick, Hanford, Pasco and Southridge, Class 2A schools Ephrata, Ellensburg and Toppenish, and Class 1A schools Kiona-Benton and Mabton.
Surprising to some -- though not the Bears -- Ki-Be more than held its own, the players said, beating everyone they faced (they didn't play Kamiakin or Hanford).
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"I wanted to prove to my girls that we could compete with the big schools," Wirtzberger said. "You don't need 800 kids. You only play with five. I wanted every game in the summer to mean something. When you have to face Ephrata, Ellensburg, Southridge and Kennewick, you have to be ready."
The move by Wirtzberger paid off, as his team has thrived this season, winning the SCAC East title -- the first in the girls basketball program's history.
"I think (the summer league) helped boost our confidence," senior Cierra Torp said. "Everyone always says that you are a 1A and you can't keep up with the bigger schools. It helped a lot."
The Bears also went to a tournament in California as a team and faced select teams from around the west. All told, the group played 75 to 90 summer games.
"You have to play against the best in order to get better," senior Taylor Brown said. "We're always bonding, always learning stuff about each other. It brought us that much closer."
And it paid off with a league title and a No. 1 seed into the District 5 tournament. Kiona-Benton hosts Zillah at 7 p.m. today in a first-round game. The Leopards defeated the Bears 48-46 on a buzzer beater in the season opener for the Benton City school.
"We're super pumped," Torp said. "We know we can beat them. We aren't scared at all. We want to be more than league champions."
A plan that has been in motion since last summer.
Kennewick at Hanford: The rubber match between the Lions and the Falcons has heavy consequences tonight.
Kennewick plays at Hanford at 5 p.m. in an elimination game in the first round of the CBBN 3A district.
The Lions won the first matchup between the teams, 37-32, sending Hanford to 1-8 on the season.
The Falcons had come in with high hopes of competing for the second spot in league, but the start of the season was a struggle.
"A lot of factors go into a season," Hanford coach Evan Woodward said. "The girls started the season off very slow, and we lost a lot of close games. The difference has been the confidence the kids have had, especially on the defensive end."
Hanford ended the slide, winning six of seven games including getting revenge against Kennewick (42-36).
"They clearly played better the second half of the season," Woodward said of his team. "We'll see if it pays off."
Tonight's matchup might come down to guard play, as Kennewick posts Angelique Whistocken and Panisesi Taimani could neutralize Hanford posts Colette Gall and Lexi Rutherford.
Kennewick point guard Janey Valerio and Hanford point guard Savanna Steele figure to get opportunities to shine, as well as Hanford sophomore wing Sydney Shintaffer, who is averaging 13 points against the Lions this season.
CWAC: Five of the six seeds have been decided for the district tournament.
The last one will be decided tonight when Grandview (9-10, 7-10 CWAC) plays at Ellensburg (9-10, 7-10) at 5:45 p.m.
The Greyhounds have lost five of their last six games, though in their defense, they have played four of the top five teams in the league in that stretch.
Payton Parrish is coming off a monster game last week, as she poured in 35 points and pulled down 18 rebounds in a 61-59 loss to Toppenish.