Going the Rounds: Elma, South Bend tourney runs provide feel-good stories

Deep state tournament runs help wash away bitter taste of past disappointments

By Rick Anderson

For the Grays Harbor News Group

Elma’s and South Bend’s girls basketball programs have one unwanted distinction in common.

Forced to play a winner-to-state, loser-out game following a district championship game due to a shortage of regional/state allotments, the Eagles (in 2018) and Indians (in 2004) are the only Twin Harbors hoop teams in my recent memory to both compete for a district title and fail to advance to a regional or state tournament.

That’s why Elma’s and South Bend’s postseason success this year rank as feel-good stories in the recently concluded prep basketball campaign.

The winner of Evergreen 1A League and district girls championships, the Eagles went on to claim a sixth-place trophy at last week’s state 1A tournament.

South Bend’s girls came out of nowhere to earn its first state tournament berth in 26 years and fall only one win shy of a state 2B trophy.

A perennial league contender, Elma frequently had been snakebitten in postseason competition in recent years. The Eagles had the distressing habit of losing key players to injury at critical junctures.

When three players (including senior standout Molly Johnston) suffered ankle injuries early in the campaign, Elma coach Lisa Johnson admitted to having flashbacks of previous misfortunes.

In addition, the traditionally up-tempo Eagles previously were vulnerable when postseason foes were able to slow them down and turn the contests into defensive battles.

This year, however, Elma was able to win some low-scoring games at both district and state.

While noting that the Eagles made some adjustments to their half-court offense, Johnson attributed much of the change to improvement on the other end of the floor.

“We played the best defense out of almost any team I have coached,” the Elma coach said. “We really worked this year on being more disciplined and getting into better defensive position and not picking up easy fouls. We made defensive adjustments throughout each and every game, throwing a lot of different defenses at teams.”

The common denominator in Elma’s few losses over the past couple of seasons has been miserable field-goal shooting. The Eagles, for example, shot 2-of-24 from the field in the first half and 15 percent for the game in their state quarterfinal loss to Lynden Christian.

“In some of those games, we had poor shot selection, forcing shots and not playing team ball and finishing,” Johnson observed. “We (also) had some really good looks in those losses and didn’t finish when we needed to.”

Elma head coach Lisa Johnson guided the Eagles to a 1A District IV title and sixth place finish in the state tournament. (Ryan Sparks | Grays Harbor News Group)

Elma head coach Lisa Johnson guided the Eagles to a 1A District IV title and sixth place finish in the state tournament. (Ryan Sparks | Grays Harbor News Group)

If the Eagles can rectify that shortcoming, next season’s outlook should be bright.

Seniors Johnston and Kassedy Olson will be missed. But Elma returns the bulk of its varsity roster — including Evergreen 1A League MVP Jalyn Sackrider.

In other words, this year’s state trophy likely won’t be Elma’s last in the immediate future.

Since this season’s top three scorers are seniors (Karley Reidinger, Jessica Sanchez and Hannah Byington), South Bend’s short-term prospects are iffier. In some respects, however, the Tribe’s saga this past season might have been even more gratifying than Elma’s.

The 2004 experience — in which they went from the brink of a district title to the sidelines within a couple of days — was shattering in part because the Indians hadn’t qualified for state since 1993. Nor did they turn the trick in the next 14 years.

South Bend’s profile during those seasons was fairly similar. The Indians generally were good enough defensively to post a winning season, but they lacked the firepower to make a deep run at district.

They were following a similar pattern this season when they suddenly kicked into overdrive late in the campaign. South Bend reeled off nine wins in a 10-game span that began late in the regular season and continued into state.

Still not the area’s most explosive team, the Indians took their defensive prowess to a different level. They held their opponents to less than 40 points in all nine of those wins — including a regional conquest of Liberty Bell and a state triumph over Auburn Adventist.

Although they fell shy of a state trophy, the Indians outlasted all three of the teams that finished ahead of them in Pacific 2B League play. It was a satisfying experience for all concerned. That included veteran coach Gary Wilson —who was also at the helm of the 2004 team.

Something to whistle about

Although Elma didn’t make it, Grays Harbor was represented in the state 1A girls championship game last Saturday in Yakima.

Hoquiam teacher Megan Pumphrey was selected as one of the officials for the LaSalle-Lynden Christian title contest.

A former Hoquiam High School multi-sport standout, Pumphrey reffed in Texas before returning to the Harbor a couple of years ago.

She has been a welcome and highly rated addition to a Grays Harbor officiating corps that was taxed to the max this past season due to retirements, injuries and other defections.

Officiating numbers in all sports have declined nationally in recent years. While coaching and spectator decorum towards refs has deteriorated, much of the blame belongs to us in the media.

Federal cases are not only made of such egregious officiating errors as the non-call that probably cost the New Orleans Saints a Super Bowl berth, but also bang-bang plays that can only be determined as mistakes on the fifth slow-motion replay. High school officials, of course, have no access to replay.

Excellent officiating, meanwhile, invariably passes unnoticed.

In that sense, Pumphrey and her partners can count their state title-game appearance as a triumph. The officiating was never referenced in the Yakima Herald-Republic’s account of LaSalle’s come-from-behind 56-49 victory.

In the officiating business, no news is good news.