By NEIL PIERSON
When a team's emotions go through a series of peaks and valleys, the final valley is always the toughest one to take.
Such was the case for the Medical Lake girls basketball team, which saw its roller coaster season come to an end in a 58-51 Great Northern League playoff-opening loss at West Valley last Wednesday.
The game symbolized the Lady Cardinals' season in many ways. After taking an early lead, ML found itself trailing by nine points at halftime.
A third-quarter rally gave ML a brief lead, but that momentum was squelched by an injury to Richelle Daily.
Playing without their leading scorer for the rest of the night, the Lady Cards fought hard but didn't have enough things go their way at either end of the court.
Outside the locker room afterwards, ML coach Val Von Lehe couldn't contain tears shed out of concern for her senior star
and for the realization that, for this year's team—which included three freshmen and three sophomores—there was no
“We'll definitely use (this season) as incentive for next year and the two years to follow,” Von Lehe said.
Fifth-seeded ML (9-12 overall) used its size advantage to grab a one-point lead at the end of the first quarter,
attacking the offensive glass and getting key contributions from Richelle Daily, Gabrielle Daily and Ariel Jones.
The Lady Cards' game plan focused heavily on WV senior guard Krystal McCarthy, who had burned them badly by averaging 19.5 points in two regular-season meetings.
McCarthy didn't have her best shooting game, finishing 8-for-19 from the floor, but hit four 3-pointers and ended up with a game-high 25 points.
Von Lehe credited the Eagles for setting up McCarthy and destroying one of ML's keys for victory.
“They set some screens and she was open an awful lot,” Von Lehe said. “She's a good shooter.”
All of McCarthy's 3-pointers came in the second quarter, the last one coming at the 3-minute mark to give the Eagles a 22-17 lead. Lacey Nordby's short jumper pushed WV's halftime
lead to 28-19, its biggest margin of the night.
“We had to step up our defense—that was the main thing we had to do,” Von Lehe said of her halftime adjustments.
“They were on their 3-point shots. We didn't come out real strong.”
The Lady Cards got open shots throughout the game, and finally started hitting them in the second half.
ML opened the third quarter with an 11-1 run and took a 30-29 lead with 4:49 left on Liz Walker's trey from the right corner.
Walker had a solid outing, scoring a team-best 16 points that included four 3-pointers.
Disaster struck with 2:15 left in the frame when Richelle Daily fell hard battling for a rebound.
She was carried off the floor, with word coming after the game that she'd sustained substantial ligament damage to her right ankle.
The senior had 12 points, 10 rebounds and three blocked shots during her 23 minutes of action, and her absence left a huge void in the middle for the Eagles to exploit.
The Lady Cards did their best to fill it, and stepped up their efforts in the final 10 minutes.
ML tied the game at 39 early in the fourth quarter, but never took the lead again.
WV got some huge shots down the stretch, including Missy Carey's trey with 1:45 left and McCarthy's off-balance jumper with the shot clock winding down in the final minute.
Two WV offensive rebounds following missed free throws cost ML crucial possessions, and McCarthy hit four straight from the line in the final 22 seconds to seal the deal.
The fourth-seeded Eagles (10-12) advanced to the double-elimination round of the GNL playoffs and lost at top-seeded Pullman (21-0) on Friday.
Von Lehe has helped dramatically alter a struggling Lady Cards program, earning 23 wins over the past two seasons.
She was encouraged by the players' growth and felt this year would only make them stronger.
“A lot of it is we have to play team ball, and mental toughness will get them through.
They had to overcome an awful lot, which they did,” she added. “The future of Lady Cardinal basketball looks really good.”
Neil Pierson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org