West High's unbeaten streak continued Friday -- barely
In the waning seconds of the game, Cece Cockerham scored the winning basket on a putback of teammate Marshala Eady's missed free throw, lifting the Eagles past South 63-62 Friday in semifinal action at the Cook Inlet Conference tournament at West High.
"I boxed out and went up for it," Cockerham said moments after securing a Class 4A state berth for her team.
The victory puts undefeated West into Saturday's championship game against East, which is also headed to the state tournament thanks to a 51-49 win over Dimond in the other semifinal.
The CIC gets two automatic berths to the state tournament, but Dimond has a chance of claiming one of two at-large berths that will be awarded based on Winning Percentage Index rankings.
Cockerham said the close game surprised West, which defeated South both times in conference play by double digits, including a 24-point victory to end the regular season.
"We never thought it would be like this," she said.
The Eagles stayed mentally tough, Cockerham said, and stressed their "refuse to lose" motto.
Back-to-back buckets by Sabrina Ungaro put South up by three -- the largest lead in the game's final five minutes. West's Kiana Alcantara made it a one-point game with 90 seconds to go.
South's Taylor Murray sank a free throw a minute later to give her team a 62-60 lead before Eady went to the line, where she made the first of two free throws, setting the scene for Cockerham's heroics.
West took a five-point lead into the final quarter after the teams played to a 33-33 tie in the first half.
Murray led South with a double-double -- 19 points and 12 rebounds. Ungaro also scored 19 points for the Wolverines, who got 12 from Sadie Hodgson.
West also had three players in double figures. Theyoung Puoy scored a team-high 16 points, followed by Eady (15) and Cockerham (11).
In the other semifinal, positivism paid off for the T-birds.
East clawed back from a 14-point halftime deficit to edge Dimond and clinch a berth in the March 20-23 state tournament at Sullivan Arena.
In the past, East would have folded facing a double-digit hole, Dajah Motuga said. But Motuga and her fellow seniors delivered an upbeat halftime speech that sent the T-birds into the second half confident, not deflated.
It worked. East more than doubled Dimond's offense in the final 16 minutes, outscoring the Lynx 14-5 in the fourth quarter.
Vaa Pedro was one of the heroes for East. After surviving a near-steal by Dimond's Tara Thompson, East worked the ball down low to Pedro, who sank the game-winning bucket and drew a foul with eight ticks on the clock.
Pedro, who scored 10 points, didn't convert the 3-point play, giving Dimond a chance to force overtime. Thompson couldn't get a close jumper to fall at the buzzer, and the T-birds rushed the floor in celebration.
Minutes after the game, Pedro was still processing the thrilling finish.
"I'm so, like, speechless right now," she said. "To be able to reward them with this win is surreal."
East cut Dimond's 14-point advantage in half in the third quarter and took its first lead since the first quarter when Tennae Voliva drained a 3-pointer with 5:35 left in the fourth quarter. Dimond's Rohyn Huss, who finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds, answered immediately with a trey of her own.
Motuga nailed one of her five 3-pointers -- all of her team-high 15 points came from beyond the arc -- to put East up by one with two minutes left. A free throw by Dimond's Thompson (team-high 17 points) knotted the score at 49-49 with 43 seconds to go.
Dimond's speed led to its big halftime lead, Pedro said.
"We just didn't get back on defense," she said.
In the second half, East slowed the game's pace with perimeter passing. And the T-birds starting hitting their 3-pointers -- seven of East's 10 treys came in the third and fourth quarters.
Ultimately, Motuga said, teamwork keyed the victory.
"It was a hard win," she said.
Reach Mike Nesper at email@example.com or 257-4335.
By MIKE NESPER