KENNEWICK -- The Chiawana girls basketball team finally achieved the "first" it had wanted most all season.
The Riverhawks held off Lewis & Clark 59-52 in Friday night's semifinals of the 4A Eastern Regionals at Toyota Center to clinch the school's first-ever state berth in a team sport.
"There's not words to describe the feeling," said junior Shelby Ellsworth, who had 15 points and four assists. "It's just awesome."
Chiawana (23-2) will play for the regional title at 3 p.m. today against Mead, which beat Walla Walla 52-35 in the first semifinal.
"They want to cut down the nets," said Riverhawks coach Steve Davis, who guided Pasco to a pair of regional titles -- including last year -- before moving over to the first-year school.
"But the prize they wanted most is to play next week. To get the title (today) would be just the icing."
Wa-Hi still is alive to get a prized spot in next week's state field in Tacoma. The Blue Devils play Moses Lake at 11 a.m. today in a winner-to-state game.
The Chiefs eliminated Southridge 58-43, while Richland fell to Central Valley 69-47 in a loser-out game. CV plays Lewis & Clark, also at 11 a.m., for the final state berth.
Chiawana 59, Lewis & Clark 52
The Riverhawks came out blazing against the Tigers (15-9), hitting on seven of their first eight shots and building a 24-9 lead with 5:28 left before halftime.
"Our downfall this year has always been that we've never come out strong," said Chia-wana junior Hayley Hodgins, who scored a game-high 19 points. "Our biggest goal was to come out and set the tone for the game."
The Riverhawks led 31-23 at halftime and 45-33 after three quarters, but the Tigers wouldn't go away. They got as close as 56-52 with 47 seconds left on Mary Blevins' layin.
Hodgins hit a free throw with 40.5 seconds left, then pounced when Nakia Arquette brought an offensive rebound down and forced a held ball with 19.3 seconds left.
The Riverhawks gained possession, and Hodgins sank two foul shots with 16.3 seconds left to ice the victory.
"There were definitely times when it felt iffy," said Ellsworth, one of three starters who played on Pasco's regional champion last year. "But we got the momentum and our confidence back, and we took control of the game again."
Davis credited Ellsworth and Hodgins with righting the ship when LC made its final run.
"They stepped up big time down the stretch, taking care of the ball and hitting free throws," he said. "The last couple of games, we didn't handle the pressure well, but tonight they wanted to take that next step."
Hodgins went 12-of-16 at the free-throw line and Ellsworth 7-of-8 as LC was whistled for 27 fouls to Chiawana's 21.
"It was good that the officials called the game that way," Hodgins said. "It was heading to where someone might get hurt. And it was to our advantage, because we're good free-throw shooters. We can handle it."
Mikaela Rivard added 13 points and Sadie Sparks pulled down a game-high nine rebounds for the Riverhawks. Blevins led LC with 15 points.
Mead 52, Walla Walla 35
The Panthers (20-5) ran past the slower Blue Devils (16-9), as guards Taylor Ingebritsen and Jazmine Redmon scored 17 points apiece.
Jamie Weisner scored a game-high 20 points for Wa-Hi, but no other Blue Devil scored more than seven.
"I think our inexperience showed tonight," said first-year Wa-Hi coach Jill Meliah. "We got a little shell-shocked, especially our younger players. But the nice thing is we took care of business Tuesday night, so we have another chance (today)."
Moses Lake 58, Southridge 43
Regional tournament experience also showed in this loser-out contest.
The Chiefs had qualified for state the past two years, winning two loser-out games in 2008 to advance. Southridge was making its first regional appearance since 2000.
"We talked about that all year, that our experience would benefit us as we developed throughout the season," said ML coach Matt Strophy.
It played out as a couple of role players throughout the season, seniors Lacey Padilla and Tiffany Morris, came up with big games to make up for an off-night by junior Jordan Loera (six points on 2-of-14 shooting).
Padilla scored 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting, and Morris added 11 points. Both swished 3-pointers during the decisive 9-0 run to open the second half, giving ML a 37-21 lead.
The Suns (16-10) never drew closer than 10 the rest of the way.
Kayla Bernsen, who played for Connell at last year's 1A state tournament before transferring to Moses Lake, scored a game-high 21 points.
Southridge was hurt by 22 turnovers, including five during ML's third-quarter run. The Suns also shot just 31 percent (15-of-48).
"We were exchanging turnovers for points, and you just can't do that," said Suns coach Scott Stiles, who graduates four starters. "This was a good experience for our underclassmen. Hopefully, they saw how hard the seniors worked."
Heather Worley scored 12 points in her final game for Southridge, finishing with 1,052 for her career. She also had 11 rebounds and six assists.
Central Valley 69, Richland 47
The Bombers (16-10) were within 26-20 late in the first half when CV began to take control.
The Bears led 31-22 at halftime, pushed their advantage to 46-30 late in the third and were never headed. CV shot 60 percent (25-of-42), with Whitney Black leading the Bears with 21 points.
"CV really pushed the ball and got good looks in transition," said first-year Richland coach Kristen Davis.
Megan Sax, playing her final game for the Bombers, scored a game-high 24 points.
"I think the level of play the two GSL teams that we saw in regionals brought was a step up for us," said Davis, who returns three starters and eight underclassmen. "Hopefully, our younger kids leave here hungry to become better for next season."
Rene Ferran: 509-582-1526; firstname.lastname@example.org