WAPATO — No one seemed to be able to find a consistently hot hand for Ellensburg’s offense in its CWAC opener against East Valley at Wapato, the Red Devils’ primary home gym this season.

Although coach Jeff Whitney said the Bulldogs forced some shots against a tough matchup zone, he also saw plenty of good passing from a balanced, unselfish group. It turned out to be enough to complement a strong defensive performance and deliver a 56-45 win, led by 10 points each from starting guard Dylan Phillip and Maddie Kennedy off the bench.

“It shows that we love playing as a team,” said Phillip, who scored five points in the last 15 seconds of the third quarter to stretch Ellensburg’s lead to seven points. “It shows that we’re a well-rounded, talented team. We’re pretty deep, which is good to have this year.”

All 10 players scored before halftime, and the bench scored 27 points compared to 29 from the starters. Five different players hit 3-pointers and senior point guard Brinley Hagemeier shook off some rust to finish with six points in her first game back from an injury that kept her out of a 57-41 win over Zillah last Tuesday.

That depth allowed the Bulldogs to maintain significant pressure on East Valley’s offense, forcing 26 turnovers and creating several easy baskets off of 16 steals. Whitney said although Ellensburg also played some 2-3 zone and man-to-man to keep the Red Devils guessing, it was Phillip’s favorite defense, an extended 1-3-1 zone, that proved to be the most effective option.

“We can do so many things out of it,” Whitney said. “You’d better shoot that corner jump shot at a high percentage, otherwise it’s going to be a long rebound for transition and we have really good guards, so I like those odds for us.”

East Valley hit some important jump shots, particularly to start the second half when Karina Hibbitt drilled back-to-back threes followed by a steal and layup for Jaelynn Livingston to give the Red Devils a 30-29 lead. Hibbitt hit another three to cut the deficit to 49-45 with less than three minutes remaining to give her a game-high 16 points, but EV wouldn’t score again.

Phillip said it wasn’t easy for her and fellow sophomore Kaelynn Smith to quickly prepare for basketball after recovering from injuries they suffered during soccer season. Fortunately, both were able to get enough rest thanks to players like Katie Blume, who came off the bench to score seven points and help the Bulldogs open up a 10-point lead after a slow start.

“I think she plays a vital role for us because as we take Dylan out or another of our scorers, she comes in and she’s like, ‘I’m ready to go,’” Whitney said. “I think not many teams have that luxury.”

Even without a deep bench, though, East Valley kept coming back against the preseason league favorite. The Red Devils found their way to the basket and outrebounded Ellensburg 37-33 while capitalizing on their opportunities by hit nine of their first 10 free throws.

Ashlynn Sylve took the floor for the first time since the 2017-18 postseason, when she averaged a team-best 13.9 points per game while East Valley won a district title and took fifth place at the 2A state tournament. Although the 5-foot-8 junior showed a little rust and struggled at times offensively, she still finished with seven points and 12 rebounds against a defense focused on shutting her down.

“She’s a stud,” Whitney said. “I think she’s, athletically, one of the best players in the league.”

The Red Devils will keep improving as she regains her comfort level on the court, and Whitney expects to see plenty of growth from his still young team as the season rolls along. A deep roster gives the Bulldogs some margin for error as they try to find their identity and discover the right fit to maximize an abundance of talent.

ELLENSBURG — Dylan Phillip 10, Smith 7, Hagemeier 6, Hartrick 4, Whitney 2, Maddie Kennedy 10, Blume 7, Leishman 5, Ness 3, Lyyski 2. Totals 20-52 11-20 56.

EAST VALLEY — Karina Hibbitt 16, Sylve 7, Livingston 7, Barry 6, Harrington 6, Alvarado 3, Prince 0, Wright 0, Arenas 0, Gordon 0. Totals 15-47 9-11 45.


East Valley=6=16=13=10=—=45

3-point goals: Ellensburg 5-22 (Ness 1-1, Phillip 1-2, Smith 1-2, Blume 1-4, Leishman 1-4). East Valley 6-19 (Hibbitt 4-10, Alvarado 1-1, Livingston 1-2). Rebounds: Ellensburg 33 (Blume 6), East Valley 37 (Sylve 12). Turnovers: Ellensburg 15, East Valley 26. Steals: Ellensburg 16, East Valley 12. Fouls: Ellensburg 12, East Valley 16. Fouled out — Sylve.

Reach Luke Thompson at luthompson@yakimaherald.com and on Twitter: @luketscribe