TACOMA — Survive and adapt. And advance. Neah Bay moved on to the Class 1B girls state basketball tournament by changing its offensive and defensive strategies in game to knock off Naselle 58-39 in a loser-out state regional contest at Mount Tahoma High School on Saturday.
The Red Devils will face the loser of a contest between seventh-seeded Evergreen Lutheran and second-seed Oakesdale in a loser-out first round state contest at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at Spokane Arena.
Saturday against the Comets, Neah Bay traded buckets with the Comets in the early going, but made their move in the middle of a foul-plagued first half.
Red Devils head coach Tony McCaulley said the game was called closely.
“It wasn’t a poorly officiated game at all, it was just called real tight for both sides,” he said.
Recognizing how closely the game was being officiated, the Red Devils worked the ball inside for closer buckets or picked up fouls on shorter field goal attempts as part of a 16-2 run over 7:45 of the first and second quarters to push out to a 21-9 lead with 6:15 left before halftime.
“Yeah, I did tell the girls to drive,” Tony McCaulley said.
Neah Bay (19-3) posts Vonte Aguirre and Cei’J Gagnon were the biggest beneficiaries of the shift in strategy, as both fought hard inside for baskets, rebounds and trips to the free-throw line.
Aguirre finished with 17 points to lead all scorers and Gagnon, a freshman, chipped in with 14 points, nine coming in the second half.
“I thought Vonte played a great game and Cei’J did too,” McCaulley said.
“We switched things up and they were able to do well offensively, and rebound and keep their big [Lilli Zimmerman] in check.”
Zimmerman looked to be a thorn in Neah Bay’s side early, scoring five points in the first quarter, but finished the game with seven.
The Red Devils made that initial 16-2 run despite being plagued with foul trouble.
Starting point guard Gina McCaulley picked up her second foul after just 3:03 of game time, and added a third at 6:10 of the second quarter.
Backup point guard Starlena Halttunen quickly picked up her first foul on her first defensive series of the game, and added three more before halftime.
Gagnon also played with foul trouble, having collected three personal fouls before halftime.
“All the fouls made us change up our defense and get out of our man,” McCaulley said.
“We had to run [a] 2-3 zone or else everybody would have fouled out.
“Both of my point guards had foul trouble, Cei’J was in trouble. I did have to [juggle] things around a bit.”
There were so many fouls that Naselle stayed in the game heading to halftime by repeatedly striding to the free-throw line. All nine of the Comets’ second-quarter points came at the charity stripe.
The Red Devils led 30-18 at halftime.
Neah Bay effectively sealed the game with a 7-0 run out of the locker room. The Red Devils lead grew to 44-22 after three quarters, and as high as 52-29 with just over five minutes to play in the fourth quarter.
Neah Bay missed out on state last season. The Red Devils last made the state tournament in 2015.
Neah Bay 58, Naselle 39
Naselle 9 9 4 17 — 39
Neah Bay 14 16 14 14 — 58
Naselle (39) — Gudmundsen 9, Zimmerman 7, Chapman 7, Weston 6, Ford 4, Jacot 4, Harman 2.
Neah Bay (58) — Aguirre 17, Gagnon 14, Johnson 10, McCaulley 8, Svec 5, Halttunnen 2, Lovik 2