SPIRIT LAKE –– The Kellogg Lady Wildcats have been a lot of things this season.
They have been big winners, they have been on the other side of that coin, but now they are one win away from being called champions.
Oh, and a ticket to the state tournament.
On Wednesday night, after watching the mighty Timberlake Tigers run away with a dominant 57-12 win over Priest River in the night’s opening contest, the Wildcats knew they needed to make a statement of their own.
And a 55-31 win over second-seeded Bonners Ferry was just the statement they needed.
Anchored by Hailey Cheney’s 22 points, and goodness knows how many rebounds, the freshman phenom was everywhere on the floor for the Wildcats, getting buckets on one end and then blocking a shot or grabbing a rebound on the other.
The Wildcats began the game by attacking their opponent’s biggest strengths; those being senior post Jerzie Pluid and sophomore guard Holly Ansley.
Forcing them into playing more aggressive defense, the Badger’s star players found themselves on the bench with three fouls each, and the Cats feasted upon that opportunity.
Taking a 29-15 lead into the intermission, the question on everyone’s mind was if Kellogg could maintain their play from the first half.
At first, it seemed like that answer was no, Bonners came out and went n a quick 7-2 run to cut the Wildcats lead to just nine points, but after a timely time out from coach Jana Nearing, Kellogg went on a 9-0 run of their own.
Bonners Ferry would really never threaten the Wildcats the rest of the way, even as Nearing went deep into her bench and played several players who were bumped up from the junior varsity team.
“We came out and played according to plan,” Nearing said. “We took care of the ball and had very few turnovers. We played aggressive defense and we did it well.”
Forcing Pluid and Ansley into foul trouble wasn’t necessarily part of her plan, but Nearing liked the way her team keyed in on forcing them into tough situations where they picked up fouls.
“We knew if we could get them into having to play aggressively, we knew we would be good to go,” Nearing said. “We also knew we had to keep them from getting going offensively and to do that we needed to get them on the bench.”
Pluid and Ansley combined for just 14 points.
Kellogg came into the game with a big question mark at the point guard position, would freshman Grace Nearing be up for the challenge of starting her first ever district tournament game as the Wildcats’ sole point guard?
In short answer; Yes, she was.
“With Jaron (Figueroa) and Sammy (Seymour) out, Grace is our number three point guard and the only true point guard on our team,” Nearing said. “She came out and handled the pressure like an absolute pro. I really challenged our seniors to step up and support the three freshmen we had playing and they did a great job doing that which helped our freshmen not feel that pressure.”
Nearing will now shift focus to Thursday’s championship game, where she will need to see her team replicate the efforts they had on both sides of the floor tonight.
Kellogg will take on Timberlake for 3A District I Championship and a trip to the state tournament Thursday night at 7 p.m. at Timberlake High School.
Priest River will take on Bonners Ferry in a loser-out game prior to the championship game.