YAKIMA — When Elma needed some clutch free throws from Jillian Bieker in a tie game with 14 seconds remaining in overtime, she wasn’t thinking about weight of the moment.
In fact, she was trying not to think about anything.
“I didn’t think about anything actually,” she said. “When I think too much, I just don’t make them. I just wanted to relax my breathing because I know we needed those shots.”
Bieker’s perfect trip to the line ended up producing the eventual-game winning free throws in Elma’s 50-47 victory over Meridian on Friday.
The win puts Elma through to the consolation-bracket final, where they will take on No. 2 Bellevue Christian today at 8 a.m., with fourth place in state at stake.
Regardless of the outcome of Saturday morning’s game, Elma will at least bring home a sixth-place runner up trophy.
Elma’s chances of bringing home a trophy of any kind appeared to be in doubt after an offensive drought in the third quarter.
The Eagles trailed 24-23 at the half until a six-minute scoreless streak allowed the Trojans to expand the lead to nine.
Meridian’s Jolee Sipma created some problems for Elma in the early going as the junior post scored nine points in the second quarter alone.
Free throws from Elma’s Molly Johnston and Quin Mikel in the final two minutes of third was the Eagles’ only points of the frame.
Free throws would be key to Elma’s comeback in a physical game where Meridian committed 31 fouls and had three players foul out.
The Eagles shot 70 percent from the line, going 26-of-37 from the charity stripe.
Jalyn Sackrider said she and her teammates remained confident in their ability to make a comeback.
“Even though we were down more than half the game, we realized that we can do this,” she said. “We just had to relax and play our game.”
Elma had trouble getting shots to fall with consistency and made up for it by attacking the basket in the fourth quarter.
Sackrider was a big part of Elma’s comeback, scoring nine of her team-leading 18 points in the fourth while also hitting a shot that tied the game at 37-37 with 4:58 left in regulation.
Elma head coach Lisa Johnson said she could feel the tide turning in the fourth quarter.
“Even when we were down I was telling them that it’s only seven points. We can score seven points in two minutes,” she said. “We just started chipping away and pretty soon, when the momentum shifted in the fourth quarter, you could just feel it.”
Both teams battled to establish control in the final minutes before overtime as neither team led by more than three during that stretch.
Elma had chance to avoid overtime altogether with a little under 10 seconds to go in the fourth. The Eagles had possession and got the inbound pass to Mikel, who drove the lane but couldn’t finish the left-handed layup.
Sackrider grabbed the offensive rebound and appeared to have hit the game winner until her shot attempt rimmed out.
Johnson still can’t understand how Sackrider’s attempt didn’t fall.
“That shot was perfect,” she said. “It was in and out. It was off the glass, it was off the rim, but that’s OK because winning in overtime made everything worth it.”
Overtime got off to a slow start with neither team scoring for the first two minutes of the extra period.
Meridian got its only bucket of extra time from Lindsey Moore with 1:52 remaining.
Johnston responded on the next possession by working the ball inside and finishing a contested close-range shot to tie the game.
Bieker’s free throws with 14 seconds remaining gave her team the lead and Elma followed that up by getting a key stop.
Sackrider fought through a screen and got a hand in Sipma’s face to contest a 3-point shot that would have gave Meridian the lead with less than five seconds remaining.
Johnston grabbed her team-leading 12th rebound on the miss and split her free throws to put the Eagles up by three.
A last-second half-court heave from Meridian couldn’t extend the game, allowing the Eagles bench to jump out of their seats and celebrate its second victory of the tournament.
“They played with their gut today,” Johnson said. “You couldn’t ask them to dig any deeper to win the basketball game.”
Elma will get a little less than 24 hours of rest before its next matchup. Most of Elma’s players and coaches showed up to the court early to see who they would be facing if they beat Meridian.
Based on what she’s seen so far, Johnson thinks her team has a good shot at fourth place.
“We’ve watched (Bellevue Christian) the past three days and we’ll have some good matchups with them,” she said. “We’re going to be able to bring home some hardware for the community. That’s what its all about.”