By Pierre LaBossiere
Olympic Peninsula News Group
SPOKANE — A year after having their hearts broken in the state 1B championship game, the Neah Bay girls were determined not to be denied this time around.
Neah Bay battled back from a deficit most of the game to beat a very solid Mossyrock team 56-54 to win the Red Devils’ first-ever girls’ basketball championship.
“This feels unreal,” coach Cherish Moss said after the game. “This was our goal all year. We’ve had high expectations all year. But I feel that deep down, we knew we were going to get here.”
Down a couple of times by eight points to a solid team that wasn’t making mistakes, the sophomore- and freshman-heavy Red Devils didn’t panic.
Moss said the Neah Bay girls trusted themselves and each other. “And we focused on the things that we could control — defense and boxing out. These girls are not only physically tough, they’re mentally tough.”
Senior Allie Greene, who had 19 points, said it the championship means a lot to the Neah Bay community. “It showed that we can do it. It doesn’t matter where we come from, we’re as good if not better than anyone.”
Mossyrock, the No. 2 seed at the state tournament, was just about the only team all year to give No. 1-ranked Neah Bay trouble. The Red Devils beat the Vikings 62-59 in overtime in a Mount Vernon tournament late last year.
“Mossyrock is by far the toughest team we’ve faced,” Moss said. Much like Neah Bay, Mossyrock didn’t collapse when the Red Devils built up what appeared to be a safe lead in the final two minutes. The Vikings came back and got within one possession in the final 11 seconds.
Neah Bay had to overcome an uncharacteristically high number of turnovers — 20. Mossyrock went on a 10-0 run in the second quarter and had a 20-12 lead at one point partly because Neah Bay was having trouble with turnovers.
Allie Greene and Ryana Moss each hit 3-pointers for the Red Devils and Amber Swan added four straight points as the Red Devils settled down and closed the gap to go into the break down just 28-26.
Mossyrock responded, going on an 8-2 run to start the second half. After a Caelyn Marshall 3-pointer gave Mossyrock a 36-28 lead early in the third quarter, the Red Devils slowly started clawing their way back into the game. Greene hit her second 3-pointer and scored five straight points to tie the game at 37-37.
The game remained tied at 41-41 with 6 minutes left in the game when Ryana Moss gave Neah Bay its first lead since the first quarter by hitting her third 3-pointer.
After Marshall hit another trey, the Red Devils were still clinging to a tight 47-44 lead with 2:47 left. That was when Swan made perhaps the play of the game. On a fast break, she drove to the hoop, and was forced to to her left around a Mossyrock defender in perfect position to draw a charge. Swan made a Jordanesque right-handed reverse lay-up for a five-point lead at 49-44. Swan followed up with another drive into the key and a hard bank into the hoop for a 51-44 lead with 1:43 left.
Coach Moss said the Neah Bay girls actually start practicing how to shoot reverse lay-ins like Swan’s in the seventh grade. Her favorite moment of the was when Swan drove the lane, was stopped by Mossyrock’s defense, and she passed it to Cerise Moss, who made the extra pass to Greene for an open 3-pointer. “Taking that extra pass was awesome,” she said.
Up seven points, the Red Devils still couldn’t quite shake the tenacious Vikings. Mossyrock started fouling and Neah Bay went 5-for-7 from the line in the final 1:30. Meanwhile, the Vikings hit a basket with 1:13 left, and then Marshall hit her third 3-pointer with 11 seconds left to pull within one possession at 55-52.
Greene was fouled with eight seconds left and she made one free throw to make it a two-possession game. Mossyrock hit a shot at the buzzer for the final margin.
The Red Devils had their usual balanced offense. Greene led the way with three 3-pointers and 19 points. She shot 9-for-12 from the field in her final game for Neah Bay.
Ryana Moss also finished with three 3-pointers and 13 points. Swan had 11 points, 11 rebounds and three assists, while Angel Halttunen shot 5-for-6 from the free-throw line and finished with nine points.
As a team, the Red Devils were outstanding from the free-throw line, shooting 16-for-22. They also shot 6-for-9 on their 3-pointers.
It was the second straight year Neah Bay played in the state championship. Last year, the Red Devils lost 37-33 to Mount Vernon Christian. Neah Bay beat that team in the semifinals this year to get a measure of revenge.
The scary thing for the 1B classification? The Red Devils are still a very young team as Allie Greene and Koren Cumming are the only seniors. The core of Ryana and Cerise Moss, Swan, Qwaapeys Greene and Halttunen are among the many players returning next year.
Coach Moss said the girls will quickly move into track season and then after track is finished, they will return right back to basketball for summer league.
“We’re going to get right back to it,” coach Moss said.
Neah Bay (56) — A. Greene 19, R. Moss 13, Swan 11, Halttunen 9, Q. Greene 2.
Mossyrock (54) — C. Marshall 17, Brooks 15, P. Torrey 9, Loven 6, M. Torrey 5, R. Marshall 2.