Once the Ellensburg High School girls basketball team finally made its way out of the locker room — all family, friends and fans could do was serenade cheers for them.

And it was well deserved, because this cohort is just getting started.

In the crossover playoff game versus East Valley (Spokane) High School, Ellensburg fell to the Knights, 63-55 in overtime. East Valley (19-3, 10-2 GNL) was the No. 1 ranked 2A team in the state — and the girls hung in there from beginning to end.

It was a tough loss, but these last few weeks of playoffs have solidified that Ellensburg is here to stay – and it was time that next year there should be a little more respect to its name.

Ellensburg (16-9, 12-6 CWAC) didn’t roster one senior and were projected to finish well under .500. That doesn’t seem implausible next season.

“They didn’t want to do it this year, but next year I think they are going to be a little scared,” said junior Brinley Hagemeier.

The No. 5 seeded Bulldogs surged to begin districts, winning three straight games that included a stunning victory over No. 1 Selah High School in double overtime – the 2018-19 league champions.

Last Tuesday in Grandview for the district championship, Ellensburg fell to No. 3 Grandview High School by a mere two points. And then Saturday night, narrowly lost to one of the best teams in state — in all classifications.

That’s three games against top notch programs. And despite losing two of them, the Bulldogs were always within reach. If it wasn’t for a last second 3-pointer from East Valley to tie the contest — Ellensburg would be at the Yakima SunDome for regionals.

“I think we proved ourselves around the state now that our young kids are ready to take the next step,” said head coach Jeff Whitney. “I knew this was going to be a tough game, and I think for about 31 and a half minutes we did a great job. I told them when you play the best team in the state of Washington in all classifications, it only takes one play.

“But again, I’m proud of the girls. We just went toe-to-toe with a really good basketball team.”

East Valley’s starting five included four seniors and one junior.

Ellensburg? One junior, two sophomores — and two freshmen.

“It’s a good relief. We’re not losing anyone,” said freshman Dylan Philip. “It’s good to think that we can do this next year, we can go so much further than we did this year.”

Philip ended her scintillating first season with a game-leading 34 points. It was also a career-high, topping her two 25-point performances.

She was a culprit for many Central Washington Athletic Conference foes and was an integral part of the Bulldogs prosperity. She was quick, played impenetrable defense and could knock down shots when needed.

Having three more years left brings much apprehension among opposing coaches.

“She’s phenomenal, I can’t even speak on her,” Hagemeier said. “Having a teammate like that, she’s not selfish, she knows when to take over, when to pass it. She’s going to get even better.”

It was Philip’s show in the second half. In the first two quarters, she only had five points. In the final half — 29.

When Ellensburg was behind 37-31 in the fourth quarter, a flip switched. She scored 14 of her team’s next 18 points.

East Valley’s Holly Flynn pushed its lead, 44-39, and then the home team ensued to hit five straight shots — four from Philip. After Ellensburg forced a turnover, Hagemeier tossed it across court to Philip and she scored with ease. The Bulldogs took their first lead since late in the first quarter, 47-46 with one-minute remaining.

A jump ball swung to Ellensburg and took its time holding a one-point advantage. Philip got the ball in her hands and drove left through traffic for two-points with 14 seconds left.

But Faith Adams subsequently buried a wide open 3 from the wing with five seconds on the clock and the Bulldogs couldn’t get a legitimate shot attempt before the buzzer.

Overtime, Genesis Wilkinson scored back-to-back points to commence, 53-49. Ellensburg got within three after Philip’s bucket, but it was as close as it would get the rest of the way. The next offensive possession for the Knights, Hannah Rowland hit one from beyond the arc.

“I think we’re ready to take off as a program, that’s what I told the girls, I said ‘This will hurt for a while, but then you got to know where you are heading,’” Whitney said. “I told them ‘You’re just beginning your journey’. They’re so young right now they don’t quite understand that. I been there with teams, so I know.

“But again, it was a great season, we won a lot of good basketball games. Teams had to work really hard to beat us — they had to work really hard to do it.”

Returning wise for the Bulldogs next season will sport three seniors, three juniors and four sophomores.

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