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Pasco's Diaz finds offensive groove

PASCO -- Yessica Diaz and her Pasco teammates could have just played out the string.

Sitting at 0-8 overall and 0-2 in CBBN 3A play, the Bulldogs could have just mailed in the season and started thinking about the warm weather that soon will be upon us.

Diaz, though, had different ideas.

The 5-foot-7 senior was averaging 9.9 points per game at that point and had never been known for her scoring. She was a captain, but that mainly was because of her status as a senior, rather than being a standout.

Starting Jan. 4 against Southridge, though, Diaz has been one of the top three players in the league.

"I honestly don't know what made her click," Pasco coach Aaron Barcot said, "except that she saw the season slipping away, and she just stepped up and did it."

Pasco defeated Southridge 57-56 in that early January game, with Diaz scoring 17 points.

She hasn't looked back, averaging 20.9 points per game since and leading the Bulldogs to three league wins and a three-way tie for fifth place with Southridge and Kennewick.

Pasco plays at Southridge at 5:45 p.m. Friday in a pivotal game. One of the three tied teams won't make the playoffs.

Diaz's recent strong play has surprised not only her coaches, but her family and opposing coaches as well.

"I was bewildered," said Alma Diaz, Yessica's older sister who played for Pasco last season. "She is a shy player to me. She was good for defense, but she wasn't aggressive on attacking the basket or shooting, and then this year, all of a sudden she is just ...

"I'm proud of her. She's done good."

Barcot and the coaching staff knew Yessica Diaz could shoot, but they didn't know this kind of scoring onslaught was in the cards. She scored 29 points -- not the 32 previously reported -- in last week's 72-68 win at Kennewick. The 29 points were a career high.

"I wasn't expecting that," said Kennewick coach Tarah Staton, whose team held Diaz to four points in their first meeting. "We expected her to be a good shooter and a good player, but our goal was to hold her to 12 points or so, and we didn't stop her. She shot the ball very good against us."

While everyone else has sat back and watched in amazement, the player providing Pasco with the hope of a postseason berth is equally surprised.

"The coaches have been telling me forever that I have a good shot and I need to have confidence in myself," Diaz said. "I don't know what I did. It just worked."

Whatever it was, be it hard work or senior leadership or the stars aligning, it has been a welcome relief to Barcot.

"We spent so much time building this around Claudia," said Barcot of Claudia Olguin, who was supposed to be Pasco's top returner but blew out her knee 24 hours before the season started. "She was the floor leader and the heart and soul of this team. All summer long, Claudia did everything for us.

"We stressed a lot at pratice that someone had to step up. Why (Diaz) did it? I have no clue. She's a senior maybe. I don't know what flipped the switch for her, but she's been amazing."

Diaz has played basketball since seventh grade. She has been on varsity each of the last two seasons, as well as being a varsity volleyball player. She hasn't played in a playoff game, a possibility that certainly is within her grasp this season. So don't expect her to stop attacking the basket or launching 3-pointers or drawing fouls.

"I want to go to the playoffs because I've never experienced it," she said. "This is the school I came to, and I want it to have a good reputation, and I think (the playoffs) will improve everyone's perspective on it."