SANDPOINT — With the win and a berth at state comfortably in hand, each Bulldog senior was subbed out to a standing ovation late in their final game at Les Rogers Court, and they had earned the right to exit on their terms.
With an offense in high gear and hot shooting from beyond the arc, Sandpoint dominated nearly every phase of the game in a 69-48 dispatching of Moscow in the 4A Region 1 championship on Friday night, winning the second and final of the best-of-three series.
The No. 1 seed Bulldogs (14-8) had four seniors in double figures, led by five 3-pointers and 21 points from Grace Kirscher, 13 points from Ciera Bailey, and 12 points apiece from Audrey Mattila and Trinity Golder. The scoring diversity and depth make the Bulldogs a dangerous sleeper at state, which tips off Thursday at Mountain View High School in Meridian.
Bulldog head coach Duane Ward says depth was a key to beating Moscow for the fourth time this season.
“It wasn’t just one player putting the ball in hole,” said Ward. “They depend on each other, not just looking for Grace to score all the time.”
The Bears (8-12) were once again led by Gracey Meyer, a crafty post adept at creating space and finishing on the blocks, who finished with a game-high 29 points and helped keep the score close early.
But Mattila, who continues to produce more and more at both ends of the floor, had five point scoring runs to start the game and the third quarter, and both were big in setting a tone. She finished with three 3-pointers, and is making her fourth trip to state brimming with confidence.
“I think we can definitely win, I’m looking forward to taking the title,” said Mattila. “We do well when we play together, with confidence.”
Bailey continues to provide energy and has the quickness to break defenses down off the dribble, getting to the rim to either finish or kick out to a growing list of 3-point threats that include Kirscher, Golder, Mattila and Maddie Morgan, who drained two big threes of her own in the fourth quarter.
Teams at state will no doubt game plan to stop Kirscher, who continues to draw a crowd and punish teams by passing out of double and triple teams. And she’s red hot from long range, having drained 11 in the last two games alone, one of the reasons she’s also confident heading down for her fourth straight trip to state.
“I want state this year, I think we can take it this year,” said the Eastern Washington University bound Kirscher. “It will be gritty, whoever grinds down there. We’re peaking at the right time after a tough 5A schedule.”
The best teams, from NBA down to AAU, have strong role players, and defensive stoppers Katherine Kaul and Dawson Driggs help kick start a transition game that continues to improve. Natalie Petit and Callie Laybourne provide strong post defense, which will get tested early and often at state.
Teams that contend for championships usually have strong cultures from the top down, and much credit is due to Ward and assistant Will Love for creating a strong team chemistry and energy from the bench.
“This team is one of the most together teams that I have ever coached,” claimed Ward, no small claim since he’s been coaching for more than 50 years in Sandpoint. “They cheer from the bench. It’s a great group of kids. They push each other really hard at practice.”
The Bulldogs will open the state tournament on Thursday against either Bishop Kelly or Middleton.
Moscow 14 8 14 12 — 48
Sandpoint 14 16 21 18 — 69
MOSCOW — Rauch 4, Broyles 2, Claus 3, Meyer 29, Jung 3, Kitchel.
SANDPOINT — Mattila 12, Bailey 13, Edwards 0, Morgan 6, Driggs 3, Kaul 2, Larson 0, Laybourne 0, Golder 12, Anderson 0, Kirscher 21, Petit 0.