There’s a reason Ellensburg High School girls basketball coach Jeff Whitney wanted freshman Rylee Leishman on the court in the final minutes of a taut matchup with East Valley (Yakima).

Simple ... because she can shoot it.

Her 3-pointer tied the game late in the fourth quarter and another later sealed the win with under 30 seconds remaining for the Bulldogs to pull off a 49-43 win to remain undefeated.

“Our team did a great job of distributing and getting her the ball. And then she did a great job of just nailing this off,” Whitney said. “For a freshman to step up in a big game … she’s going to be really good.”

Whitney was ballyhoo about Leishman coming into this season, knowing the Bulldogs (12-0, 10-0 CWAC) are solidified at the point guard position in the coming years and that she’d be a consistent contributor off the bench.

But in Ellensburg’s closest game in weeks, her place wasn’t on the bench.

After East Valley (8-4, 6-4 CWAC) took its first lead since early in the second quarter, the Bulldogs responded with a Leishman triple on a Brinley Hagemeier pass, 43-43, with 2:30 left in the game.

After a Hagemeier 3-point play on an and-1, Hagemeier then notched a steal after a Dylan Philip deflection with 59 seconds left and Ellensburg called timeout.

The Bulldogs were patient and Hagmeier again found the freshman who swished another 3 from the corner.

“I was honestly thinking I have to make it,” Leishman said, who finished with nine points, all from the beyond the arc.

And to top it off, Leishman forced an East Valley turnover on the next possession.

“I didn’t really feel anything,” Leishman said when asked if she felt any pressure out there. “I couldn’t hear anything. I was just set on doing the right thing.”

Ellensburg didn’t trail for most of the contest after a 17-0 run carried over into the second quarter had them leading 22-9.

East Valley, however, slowly fought back and grabbed a 41-40 lead with 3:12 remaining. But the Bulldogs not only relied on key shots from Leishman but Hagemeier’s play on both sides of the ball.

Her 3 had the Bulldogs lead by four midway through the fourth quarter and then took a charge on East Valley’s next possession. And when the Bulldogs finally trailed, she found Leishman on the first 3 and then scored the aforementioned 3-point play, 46-43.

She tallied a team-leading 17 points along with three assists.

“Senior leadership,” Whitney said of Hagemeier. “She was talking to them on the bench, she kind of took over.”

Ellensburg schemed different types of defenses throughout the game while East Valley stuck with its zone defense the entire game, daring Ellensburg to shoot the 3.

The Bulldogs’ first five shots were all 3s and resulted in misses. They scored just seven points in the first quarter while East Valley was held to nine. Ellensburg missed all eight 3-point try’s and was 2-of-12 from the field.

Ellensburg, however, switched to a 1-3-1 defense in the second quarter and forced eight turnovers which led to easy buckets. It also made three 3s in the quarter.

Ellensburg led 26-18 at halftime.

“I think first half we settled (for 3s),” Whitney said. “We talked about the second half about driving to the gap because then we get two to converge, now we got a shooter or we got post side. We did a little better job of that.

“Still, hats off to them. They have their matchup zone, it’s always tough to play against. And they’re a team you don’t look forward to playing because of that.”

NEXT UP

The Bulldogs face another tough test as they travel to Grandview (10-3, 8-3 CWAC) for a 5:45 p.m. tip-off Tuesday.

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