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Western reaches GNAC title game with comeback win

Vikings outlast Seattle Pacific 58-53 in semifinal

Western's Avery Dykstra rises for a layup March 3 as the Vikings defeated Seattle Pacific 58-53 in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference semifinals at Carver Gymnasium.
Western's Avery Dykstra rises for a layup March 3 as the Vikings defeated Seattle Pacific 58-53 in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference semifinals at Carver Gymnasium. (Finn Wendt/Cascadia Daily News)
By Finn Wendt Visual Journalist

Western Washington University women’s basketball team fended off Seattle Pacific University for a 58-53 victory in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference semifinals in Bellingham on Friday. 

While Western shot an uncharacteristic 5 for 15 from deep, its defense didn’t allow a single 3-pointer all night, and the Vikings outscored the Falcons 18-10 in the fourth quarter to seal the victory.

“I feel like we missed a lot of easy shots that we shouldn’t have, and we don’t usually do that,” Western coach Carmen Dolfo said. “[Our defense] can carry us and I think it did carry us tonight.” 

A lot of shots didn’t fall across the board. A combination of two stingy defenses and the basketball gods denying shots left and right made it hard for both teams to put up points, particularly in the first half. 

With the game tied early at 6-6, Seattle Pacific strung together a 6-2 run to go up 12-8 to close out the quarter. 

photo  Western’s Riley Dykstra, left, and Katrina Gimmaka, right, dive for the ball. (Finn Wendt/Cascadia Daily News)  

Western opened up the second quarter with a 16-2 run to get on top 24-14 in the first four minutes of the period. Seattle Pacific’s defense finally dug in for the rest of the second half — allowing just three Viking free throws — to cut the lead to three points. 

By halftime, Seattle Pacific only connected on 7 of 31 shots, while Western was slightly more efficient, making 9 of 27. 

The Vikings started the second half up 27-24. Scoring went back and forth and neither team could extend a lead greater than five points. Shots finally started to fall and Seattle Pacific took a 43-40 lead heading into the final quarter. 

Western senior forward Katrina Gimmaka sank two free throws and then hit a jumper later in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 49. 

Seattle Pacific retook the lead by two, but a 3-point dagger from freshman Western guard Mason Oberg gave the Vikings a one-point lead again.  

photo  Western’s bench erupts in cheers during a win over Seattle Pacific in the conference semifinals. (Finn Wendt/Cascadia Daily News)  

The Falcons responded with a layup, but Oberg hit another triple to put Western up by two points. That was the final lead change as the Vikings’ defense shut out the Falcons for the final four minutes of the contest to secure the win. 

Western junior forward Brooke Walling led the Vikings with 10 points and 10 rebounds, her 11th double-double of the season. 

Senior guard Avery Dykstra, sophomore guard Riley Dykstra and Oberg each contributed nine points. 

“I’m super excited,” Oberg said. “Obviously, this is a great opportunity for us as a team. I’m just so glad I get to be a part of it.” 

Walling, who tallied nine rebounds, two assists and a steal, said the team came together down to stretch.

“Especially in the second half when it came down to it, we had good communication and did what we needed to do,” Walling said. 

photo  Western’s Monique Fierke (13) moves the Vikings’ sticker into the championship match on a conference bracket board while teammate Mollie Olson watches. (Finn Wendt/Cascadia Daily News)  

The Vikings have now gone 12-2 in Sam Carver Gymnasium this season, displaying a true home-court advantage. The semifinal matchup drew a crowd of over 1,200. 

“It was great energy,” Dolfo said. “I think [the crowd] pushed us through the end of the game and it just was really fun to play in that atmosphere.” 

The win brings Western back to the GNAC championship game for a revenge match against Montana State University Billings. The Yellowjackets were the only team that managed to sweep the Vikings this year, beating them twice in dramatic fashion. The winner of the championship will receive an automatic bid to the national tournament next weekend. 

The top-seeded Vikings (23-3) play No. 2-seed Montana State University Billings (24-6) at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, March 4, at home. 

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