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YAKIMA – Amid the commemoration, Ellensburg High School girls basketball coach Jeff Whitney took a brief moment to take a glimpse at the hoop.

“It’s a beautiful sight, no more nets,” he said.

It sure was, because it was his team he watched cut down the net piece by piece after the Bulldogs took home the CWAC district title over East Valley (Yakima) 66-44 Saturday at the Yakima SunDome.

And what makes it more special is the Bulldogs’ redeemed themselves after last season’s loss in the district championship to Grandview. “Redemption” was a common phrase heard after the game, which undoubtedly was on their mind all week long.

“It was kind of redemption from last year,” junior Kami Hartrick said, who finished with six points and five rebounds. “Especially because last year was a tough loss. It kind of felt good coming in here winning by 22 points. Felt really good.”

Said senior Brinley Hagemeier: “We were all so hungry to go out there and win it. And we worked so hard to get here so it’s just amazing being in this position with this group of girls.”

And how ironic is it that Ellensburg won its 22nd game of the season on the 22nd of February with a margin of victory by 22? Coincidence? Maybe… maybe not.

“We put redemption on our board in there pregame because I think for all of us that were involved in last year, that was tough,” Whitney said. “And like Brinley said it best is, redemption is sweet, and we earned it this year.”

Ellensburg had an entire season to learn from that district championship loss. A more experienced group that didn’t lose a single senior along with adding underclassmen talent knew how to handle its nerves better than before.

“Coming into the game, everyone was so nervous,” Hartrick said. “You could tell our energy was just nervousness. But in the end, we all turned that nervousness into hype and it ended good. I feel like after we learned doing mindfulness with (Katrina Whitney), we learned how to turn those nerves into good nerves and use those nerves to propel us forward.”

The Bulldogs’ nerves were tested after East Valley’s 12-4 run cut the deficit to eight late in the third quarter. But the 3-point shot for Ellensburg pushed the lead to 12 after freshman Rylee Leishman and sophomore Kaelynn Smith both knocked down a pair.

And the prolific shooting from the outside continued in the fourth quarter with Hagemeier finding sophomore Dylan Philip for a 3 and then Philip finding Hagemeier for a triple, 58-42.

The Bulldogs hit a total of 13 3-pointers. Perhaps Thursday’s practice at the SunDome paid dividends.

“We got quite a few outside shots to fall tonight,” Hagemeier said. “So, that was so awesome cause we’d been struggling lately from beyond the arc.”

Ellensburg’s plan coming in was to work the ball inside out instead of outside in versus East Valley’s zone defense, according to Whitney.

“If you play them outside in, they win,” he said. “Our post did a nice job where they’d get it, keeping their head up, and locating our shooters.

“… We were confident tonight. We just got on a roll and we can score very quickly.”

Philip and Hagemeier both finished with 14 points. Hagemeier added six assists and Philip made four 3s. Smith scored nine points and sophomore Katie Blume had six.

At the half with Ellensburg up 33-21, East Valley’s Ashlynn Sylve already notched 19 of the team’s 21 points. For the game, she tallied 27.

But the Bulldogs wanted to take away Jaelynn Livingston and Karina Hibbitt’s outside shot. That duo finished with just nine points.

“When (Sylve) drives, she’s usually looking to kick it out to them,” Whitney said. “We didn’t let that happen very much.”

Ellensburg advances to the 2A regionals and guarantees itself a spot at the state tournament which takes place at the SunDome. The Bulldogs (22-0) sit No. 2 in the RPI behind Lynden (22-1).

Ellensburg will play No. 7 W.F. West at 2 p.m. Saturday at Davis High School.

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