YAKIMA, Wash. -- Not many teams can convince Cashmere and star point guard Hailey Van Lith to slow down.
Then again, not many teams possess the speed and quickness of La Salle, a fact Bulldogs coach Brent Darnell understood from scouting reports and an early-season matchup with the Lightning.
La Salle refused to go away in Friday’s Class 1A semifinal and nearly erased a double-digit deficit, only to come up just a bit short in a 43-36 1A semifinal loss at the SunDome.
“I thought that we tried to push the tempo, tried to play our defensive game,” La Salle coach Alyssa Goins said. “I thought defensively we executed pretty well, just had a hard time putting the ball in the hole.”
No. 2 seed Cashmere entered the game averaging 73 points with a season-low of 56 prior to Thursday’s 46-35 win over Nooksack Valley. Van Lith scored 26 points on 12-of-25 shooting and grabbed 11 rebounds, but the Bulldogs shot just 36 percent as a team.
No. 3 La Salle shot even worse to record a season-low of its own, although a 10-for-12 mark from the free throw line helped keep it close. Van Lith’s elite ballhandling essentially nullified the Lightning’s typically explosive transition game, as it forced only eight turnovers.
“We thought that they were a little quicker than us 2-8, so we really tried to get back in transition, take away any easy fullcourt layups,” Darnell said. “Make them execute in their offense. Take away their post play. Make them make jump shots.”
La Salle strugged to find its touch from outside, other than Kamryn Fiscus’s stepback 3-pointer from NBA range to end a scoring drought of more than four minutes to start the second half. The Bulldogs took advantage to stretch their lead out to 11 with a pair of baskets from Van Lith, who faced several different defenders throughout the night as the Lightning forced her to dribble under pressure all over the court.
Cashmere’s Grace Hammond hit a key 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter when La Salle cut the lead to three, but Van Lith’s teammates made their biggest impact defensively. Darnell said the way his players defended much taller players in the post ended up being the difference in the game, and Van Lith said it was a major emphasis in the morning shootaround.
“They’ve grown so much,” Van Lith said of her teammates. “Honestly, they are the reason that we just won that game. They did everything right.”
She scored all 13 of the Bulldogs points in the second quarter to put them ahead 25-20 at half, and the Lightning occasionally brought out a double team after halftime. For the most part, though, Goins trusted her players to keep up with Van Lith 1-on-1, holding her less than six points below her season average.
La Salle’s offense still managed to show off its impressive balance as all eight players who saw the floor scored. Tatiana White led the way with eight and Grace McGree added seven in a performance that drew plenty of respect from Darnell.
“I think they’re as well-coached as any team in the state,” he said. “I think they’ve gotten better over the course of the year, better than anybody, and we knew coming in it was going to be a dogfight.”
He’ll try to prepare Cashmere (23-1) for another significant challenge in Saturday’s championship against No. 1 seed Lynden Christian (26-0).
The Lightning (21-5) will face Medical Lake for third place at 1 p.m. Goins doesn’t expect bouncing back from the loss to be a problem.
“I think these are mentally tough kids,” she said. “They’re a great group, and I think they’ll be ready to come out tomorrow.”
LA SALLE — Fiscus 5, Munguia 2, White 8, Newman 5, McGree 7, Lancaster 2, Stohr 3, Hull 4.
CASHMERE — Hailey Van Lith 26, Hammond 6, Knishka 3, High 0, Erdmann 8, Alberts 0, Darnell 0.
La Salle 9 11 7 9 — 36
Cashmere 12 13 10 8 — 43
3-point goals—La Salle 2-10 (Kamryn Fiscus 1-6, Hayley Stohr 1-1); Cashmere 3-16 (Van Lith 1-3, Grace Hammond 2-7). Rebounds—La Salle 35 (Natalie Newman 8, Trista Hull 7); Cashmere 34 (Van Lith 11, Cami Knishka 7). Assists—La Salle 2; Cashmere 5 (Knishka 4). Turnovers—La Salle 10, Cashmere 8. Total fouls—La Salle 14, Cashmere 7. Fouled out—Fiscus.