Sarah Toeaina sank 7 of 8 free throws in the final 1:35 to seal Kentwood's 61-55 victory in the first round of the West Central/Southwest 4A bi-district tournament.
KENT — Sarah Toeaina still remembers the miss.
In a clutch situation last season, her free throw went clank in a one-point loss by Kentwood.
“I had to bounce back,” she said.
Tuesday night, Toeaina showed how far she’s come, burying 7 of 8 free throws in the final 1:35 to seal Kentwood’s 61-55 victory over Battle Ground in the opening round of the West Central/Southwest 4A bi-district girls basketball tournament.
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“This year I just take it as routine and then just remember the fundamentals,” the 5-foot-10 sophomore guard said.
Toeaina hit 9 of 10 at the line overall and scored 13 of her career-high 23 points in the final quarter.
The game, moved from Wednesday to Tuesday to be played as a doubleheader with the Battle Ground-Kentwood boys game, was anything but routine.
The 10th-ranked Conquerors (19-4) let a 16-point halftime lead dwindle to one with 5:53 left. But, thanks largely to Toeaina, they pulled out their seventh straight victory and 11th over the past 12 games.
“They’re hot right now,” Battle Ground coach Joe Potter said.
Kentwood advances to quarterfinals and will face the winner of Wednesday’s Kentridge-South Kitsap game Friday at 6 p.m. at Stadium. Battle Ground (12-9) faces the Kentridge-South Kitsap loser Friday at 6 p.m. at Puyallup.
The Tigers, who owe three of their losses to fourth-ranked Skyview of Vancouver, outscored Kentwood 19-6 in the third quarter. The Conquerors turned the ball over seven times and made only one of their first 13 shots in the quarter.
During the flurry, Battle Ground lost one of its top players, 5-11 Haley Grossman, to a knee injury. Grossman attempted two comebacks in the fourth, but clearly was in pain. She finished with 14 points.
Nikki Bond led the Tigers with 22 points, including four second-half three-pointers.
Kentwood got 15 from Jenny Johnson and 10 from Alycea DeLong, two more sophomores. The Conquerors start only one senior. Youth has been part of their inconsistency and coach Lisa Ashley said they haven’t been in enough high-pressure games to gain composure.
Things went almost too easily in the first half, she noted, as the Conquerors opened leads of 14-9, 24-11 and 38-22.
“Then they (Tigers) turned up the heat and we panicked a little bit,” she said.
But with the game on the line, there was no panic in Toeania. With Battle Ground in the must-foul situation, she kept calling for the ball.
“I like having the ball in my hands the last few seconds of a game,” she said.
And she loves sinking those game-saving free throws.
Kentwood 63, Battle Ground 53
The No. 7 Conquerors didn’t let Battle Ground’s sizzling start startle them.
The Tigers, who had to win a pigtail game to even get into the tournament, led by 10 in the first quarter and were up 24-18 early in the second before Kentwood put together a 15-2 run to take the lead for good.
“We talked about being steady,” Kentwood coach Brian Davis said. “It’s really important in big games to be calm and weather runs.”
The Tigers (14-8) got a game-high 27 points from Serg Ovchinnikov, who keyed the hot start with a trio of threes in the opening quarter. But Kentwood (16-6) relied on its balance. Jeremy Smith and Austin Benson had 14 points apiece and Taylor Jones added 12.
The Conquerors play Mount Rainier in the bi-district quarterfinals at 8 p.m. Friday at Auburn.