Kentridge sophomore Dayla Ballena, right, looks to the bench for instruction during a 4A regional basketball playoff against Bellarmine Prep on Saturday. Ballena scored a career-high 19 points and her backcourt teammate, senior Tresai McCarver, left, had nine points in the win. MARK KLAAS, Kent Reporter

Kentridge sophomore Dayla Ballena, right, looks to the bench for instruction during a 4A regional basketball playoff against Bellarmine Prep on Saturday. Ballena scored a career-high 19 points and her backcourt teammate, senior Tresai McCarver, left, had nine points in the win. MARK KLAAS, Kent Reporter

Kentridge punches return ticket to state

Defending champion Chargers subdue Lions 68-34

Kentridge basketball is more than just big girls dominating post play.

Its explosive guards continue to devour the competition – on the open floor and in half-court congestion.

The Chargers combined their powerful front line with a solid effort on the perimeter to demolish undersized Bellarmine Prep 68-34 in a 4A regional playoff at Auburn Mountainview High School on Saturday afternoon.

With the win, defending state champion Kentridge (24-2) takes a 10-game winning streak to the Tacoma Dome for the Hardwood Classic. The Chargers open defense of their title at 12:15 p.m. Thursday against the survivor of the Lewis & Clark-Woodinville game Wednesday.

“I’m excited,” said Dayla Ballena, a 5-foot-7 sophomore guard who scored a career-high 19 points in the rout of the Lions. “We’re looking forward to it. … We can be the best team in Washington …. we can be great when we play like this.”

Bellarmine Prep (20-5), playing without Arizona-bound forward Shalyse Smith who was nursing a bad ankle, faces University in an elimination game Wednesday at the dome. The Lions lost to the Chargers 51-44 for the district title a week ago at Puyallup.

This time, it was a runaway win for the Chargers, who opened up a 23-8 lead after the first quarter and never looked back. The mistake-prone Lions missed five of their first six shots, enabling the Chargers to trigger their transition game and score quick baskets.

The lead grew to 30 points – 39-9 – on Jaquaya Miller’s three-point play with 3:46 left in the half. Kentridge led 41-15 at the break.

Ballena did her part, scoring 10 points and distributing the ball to open teammates during a dominant first half. Ballena frequently hit the open shot, draining five 3-pointers for the game.

“Today I was so excited. I couldn’t even sleep,” Ballena said. “I knew this was going to be the day that I just would come out and be confident and have a good game. … When it comes to the playoffs and with state just around the corner, I need to get it up and get going.”

Over time this season, Ballena has blossomed at the point, sharing the responsibilities with senior Tresai McCarver, who scored nine points in the first half. Ballena credits her coaches and her dad, Jobie, who played high school ball at Lincoln.

“I like to watch a lot of film with him,” she said. “It makes me better watching myself (on film). … It’s mostly a mental game. … I’ve learned a lot from him.”

Kentridge coach Bob Sandall is confident in having Ballena and McCarver interchangeably direct the point.

“Dayla has come along so well,” Sandall said. “She was really composed. She shot it well. She defended well.

“I’m real fortunate to have both those guards,” he said. “Our guards stepped up. People think we’re (a team of) posts. That’s not true. We have other weapons.”

Sandall’s team came ready to play a physical game against the Lions.

“We knew we had to match their intensity,” he said. “Bellarmine comes out and plays so hard defensively. They get after you. … And if we don’t match that, we find ourselves in trouble.”

Morgan Gary, the Chargers’ all-purpose player, scored 15 points. Twin towers – 6-4 junior Miller and 6-2 sophomore Jordyn Jenkins – were mired in foul trouble but finished with 10 and eight points, respectively.

Returning to the dome was the plan all along. The Chargers expected to get there to meet all challengers.

“Last year we didn’t expect to win the championship, but we did,” said Gary, who signed with Northern Arizona. “But this year we’ve actually been fighting. We have shown more of that passion to go to the dome this year. … We’re gelling more as a team than we did last year.”

The Chargers will have to be at their best. They last lost to heralded Central Valley of Spokane 57-39 in the King Showcase at the accesso ShoWare Center on Jan. 15. Central Valley, ranked 15th nationally by MaxPreps, enters the state tournament as the top seed, followed by Eastlake, Kentridge and Moses Lake.

For a look at the brackets, see wiaa.com.

“That wasn’t our best game,” Gary said of the loss to top-ranked Central Valley. “We have a lot more to give.”

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