The big elephant still hangs out in Buckley.
And it always shows itself in the month of February around the White River High School girls basketball program.
Is this the year the Hornets win a state championship under longtime coach Chris Gibson?
If Kendall Bird’s wide grin is any indication, that is a big, fat maybe.
"We’re more than ready," the University of San Diego signee said.
To do so, sometimes it takes handling the type of Class 2A regional games that took place Saturday.
It didn’t look good early, but third-ranked White River stood up late, handing No. 9 Washougal a 66-53 loss at Rogers High School.
Sofia Lavinder led the Hornets (24-2) with 22 points. Bird added 18 points and 12 rebounds before fouling out late in the game.
Oh yeah – the fouls. There were lots and lots of them.
Fifty combined fouls were called – leading to 55 free throws.
In the fourth quarter alone, the teams combined to shoot 33 free throws – 23 by the Hornets.
And it wasn’t just the secondary scorers or role players being tagged. Arguably the top three players in the game – Bird and the Washougal tandem of Beyonce Bea and Mason Oberg – fouled out.
"It kind of caught us by surprise," Gibson said. "Usually when you get to this (regional) level, they let you play a little bit. We had to adjust to that."
Bird picked up her third foul just 4:40 into the game, and had to go to the bench.
And the Hornets were in real trouble, trailing 19-8 early in the second quarter.
"I think both teams were a little flustered at first," Bird said. "But I loved the way my team bounced back."
They went on a 10-2 run to get close at halftime, down 25-22.
Then it was the Panthers’ turn to get a little frustrated by all the fouls.
Bea, their standout sophomore, picked up her fourth foul at the 1:25 mark of the third quarter. Coach Brian Oberg kept her on the floor for the ensuing Washougal possession.
And that backfired. Bea was called for a pushoff in the lane 14 seconds later, and fouled out with 14 points and 16 rebounds.
At that time, Washougal (16-6) still held a 41-38 lead. But after only scoring one field goal over the next 6:02 (with eight turnovers), the Panthers could not keep up.
And the Hornets made 17 of 23 free throws in the final quarter to turn a close matchup into a laugher.
White River plays in the 2A quarterfinals Thursday at 7:15 p.m. in the Yakima SunDome.
"We have to really focus over the next couple of days," Bird said.