Big Bend women move into final NWAC Tournament spot

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MOSES LAKE — Sophomore Hailey Garrity finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds and all five starters scored in double figures to make certain the Vikings won the most significant game to this point in the season on Saturday afternoon at DeVries Activities Center. Big Bend displaced Treasure Valley from the final NWAC qualifying spot from the East Region with a 73-71 victory.

The Lady Vikings still need to win at Yakima Valley Feb. 28 to make official. Should they lose and Treasure Valley loses at East Region winners Walla Walla (27-1), Big Bend will remain the No. 4 out of the East.

“We took a huge step today. The girls really wanted it. They’ve been saying this (game) is our season for the last week,” said coach Preston Wilks. “They have been dreaming of the postseason since we started and they went out to make that happen.”

It’s been 16 years since Big Bend has sent a women’s team to the NWAC Tournament, and even though there’s still work to be done, the bus is warming up at the curb. Part of the inspiration for five sophomores is obvious, but they wanted to do it for Wilks (164-161), who despite being the winningest women’s coach in Big Bend history, has never coached at the tournament.

“That was my goal in coming to Big Bend, to do everything it takes to get to the NWAC,” said 5-foot-10 freshman Leah Dougherty from Rexburg, Idaho. “We talked before the game about winning it for our sophomores and for our coach, who hasn’t coached at the tournament.”

The dream was in question when Treasure Valley went on a 15-2 run, punctuated with 6-foot sophomore Taylor Whitney’s power move in the paint to give the Chukars the lead at 53-51 in the third quarter. Sunnie Martinez, who was 5-of-8 from 3-point range, connected on back-to-back treys and the Lady Vikes went into the final quarter with a six-point lead that they extended to 63-56 in the first minute.

“Rebounding was tough because they were so good at crashing and getting so many bodies on the boards,” said Garrity, who finished up with seven rebounds on the defensive glass. “Anybody on this team can go off. I had 19 today, the other day Miranda (Johnson) had 36. So it really helps to be able work both inside and outside. It changes the whole game when we can do that.”

It got a little dicey in the end, but Dougherty came up with two huge rebounds and a steal down the stretch. Treasure Valley forward Ashley Wheatley scored to make it 73-71 with one second showing, but the Lady Vikings held on.

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