The Elma Eagles and Montesano Bulldogs advanced to the 1A State Tournament with regional-round wins on Saturday.
Elma 39, Deer Park 38
After all the early-season struggles, the injuries, the trials and tribulations … the Elma Eagles are back where they belong.
Kali Rambo scored two clutch buckets and Jillian Bieker’s steal and free-throw gave the Elma Eagles a nail-biting 39-38 victory over Deer Park in a 1A Regional playoff game on Saturday at Tumwater High School.
“It feels amazing,” Rambo said after hitting a shot to tie the game and one to take the lead late in the fourth quarter before fouling out. “I couldn’t describe the love I have for this team.”
It was apparent early on the Elma’s defense arrived with the Eagles when they got off the bus for the regional matchup. Elma (17-6 overall) held Deer Park (18-7) to just two points on an Anna Patterson jump shot through the first 4:50 seconds of the game.
But the Eagles failed to capitalize on its early defensive success, leading just 6-2 during that time span as missed shots and turnovers kept Elma from building a lead.
The Stags took a 10-9 lead on a Payge Rose bucket in the paint with 18 seconds left, but Elma responded with two Jalyn Sackrider free-throws to take an 11-10 lead after one quarter.
The game remained close for much of the second quarter, as Elma’s defense continued to be stingy while Deer Park held serve by swarming Sackrider in the low block and getting hands in passing lanes to force turnovers.
Elma held a four-point lead at 19-15 after Rambo his a three with 2:35 left, but Deer Park cut right into the lead when guard Taylor Lyons drilled a three from the corner less than a minute later to make it a 19-18 game.
But Sackrider, who was double and triple-teamed for most of the game, hit a jump shot with 1:30 left followed by hitting 3-of-4 free throws down the stretch to give Elma a 24-18 lead at halftime.
Sackrider opened the third quarter with a bucket after an offensive rebound to give the Eagles their biggest lead of the game at 26-18 and Elma would keep the Stags at arm’s length over the next four minutes of game clock.
But fortune turned on the Eagles over the final half of the quarter. Rambo had to sit after picking up her fourth foul and that was quickly followed by an injury to Elma’s Quin Mikel after a collision diving for a loose ball and mid-court.
With two of their leading scorers and senior leaders on the bench, Elma looked, and played, like the injury-riddled Eagles team that struggled through the first third of the season, and the Stags took advantage. After Darrian Herring hit a pair of free throw, Deer Park’s leading scorer, Havelah Fairbanks, drove to the bucket, scored and was fouled. Fairbanks completed the 3-point play to bring the Stags to within a basket at 28-26.
After a jump ball gave Deer Park possession, Lyons hit another three to give the Stags the lead at 29-28 with 2:47 left in the third quarter.
With momentum clearly with Deer Park, a Fairbanks steal and layup gave the Stags a 31-28 lead with 40 seconds on the clock.
Mikel, who was helped off the court earlier in the period, re-entered with 16 seconds left in the third, and the complexion of Elma’s play changed with her arrival.
On the next play, Sackrider sent a Fairbanks shot attempt well into the crowd, firing up the Elma fan-base and players in the process. That was followed by a Mikel running-jump shot at the buzzer to cut Deer Park’s lead to 31-30 entering the fourth quarter.
The sequence of plays to end the frame was crucial to Elma’s success according to Eagles head coach Lisa Johnson.
“The momentum shifted right then and there,” she said. “Then going into the fourth, we had the momentum going. I know with these girls, when it comes down to the end of the game that they will do whatever it takes to not lose the game.”
Lyons hit a three to open the fourth and, after a Sackrider jumper, Deer Park took a 36-32 lead on a Patterson bucket in the paint off a nice feed from Fairbanks with 4:28 to play.
Bieker hit a short baseline jumper followed by a pull-up jumper from Rambo to tie the game at 36 with 3:04 left.
Rambo the struck again, hitting on pull-up jumper after losing Lyons with to give Elma a 38-36 lead with 2:15 left.
“Today, it felt like it was my game,” said Rambo, who scored 12 points in the game, six in the fourth quarter alone. “But I kept getting stupid fouls so I knew when I came back on the court I had to make shots for my team.”
Rambo, who was the Eagles’ most confident outside shooter throughout the game, fouled out with 1:34 left on the clock, sending Lyons to the line for a 1-and-1. The junior guard hit both free throws to tie the game at 38.
On Elma’s next possession, Bieker went up for a short baseline jumper, but the senior guard’s shot was off and Herring came down with the rebound, giving Deer Park a chance to take the lead approaching a minute left in the game.
That’s when Bieker, on a team filled with players that step up and make big plays in the clutch, made the biggest play of them all. Herring fed the ball to Fairbanks, who was met by Bieker at mid-court. As Fairbanks made a move to her left, Bieker made a perfectly-timed swipe at the ball, knocking it loose. Bieker chased down the ball and was fouled by Fairbanks while going up for a layup. Bieker hit the second of her two free throws to give Elma the 39-38 lead with 1:13 left to play.
Elma’s defense was able to hold on and secure a second straight trip to the state tournament with a 39-38 victory.
“This shows the guts of this team,” Johnson said of the win. “They will dig deep and find a way to win.”
After the emotional win on a court where these same seniors played in club tournaments together in grade school, Elma players were visibly elated.
“We all love each other and we didn’t want it to end,” Rambo said . “If it would’ve ended, I would’ve been heartbroken and everyone else would’ve been too, so I guess it’s a sign telling us to keep going.”
“Our saying is ‘Never give up. Never, ever give up,’” said Sackrider, stating the phrase that originated with this group when they were playing in grade-school tournaments together. “We just kept pushing through every little thing and knew that even if we were down by a point, we can do this. … Just to be able to experience (going to state) again for the second year, it’s indescribable.”
Mikel reiterated the Eagles’ never-quit mentality.
“We have to go at it right from the get-go and never give up,” she said. “That was our quote today: Never give up. Never, ever give up.”
After a season where a state-tournament berth seemed out of reach at times, Johnson said finishing the season in Yakima is fateful for her no-quit Eagles.
“It just kind of feels like, with these girls in their senior year and all the stuff we’ve gone through, this is where its supposed to go,” she said. “I guess this is how things are supposed to work out.”
Elma will take on No. 4 Freeman at 7:15 p.m. Wednesday in the first round of the state tournament at the SunDome in Yakima.
Montesano 65, Seattle Academy 40
Montesano broke an eight-game regional losing streak and advanced to the 1A State Tournament with a 65-40 victory over Seattle Academy on Saturday at Issaquah High School.
Montesano senior center Zoe Hutchings scored 26 points and the Bulldogs defense bewildered the favored Cardinals. Monte (16-90) held Seattle Academy (18-5) to just one field goal and lead 12-3 after one quarter of play.
“We came out defensively and did a nice job on them,” Montesano head coach Mark Mansfield said. “We came ready to play.”
Monte led 22-14 at the half and poured it on over the final 16 minutes of the game, outscoring the Cardinals 22-7 in the third quarter to take a commanding 23-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.
“In the second half, our offense got going,” said Mansfield, citing Hutchings’ nine points and Paige Lisherness’ eight points in the third quarter as sparking the Bulldogs offense. “Offensively, we picked it up in the second half as far as being able to finish. And defensively, we did a nice job getting out on their 3-point shooters. … We just never gave them a lot of wide-open looks.”
Paige Lisherness finished with 13 points with Jaiden King and Zoee Lisherness adding eight and six points for the Bulldogs, respectively.
Mansfield, whose team was seeded No. 14 entering the regionals, was pleased with the way his team responded to the challenge.
“It was a real physical game and our girls were there to meet the test,” he said. “I’m really proud of the girls, our defensive effort was great. They just flew around and kept after all their shooters.”
After winning three elimination games in a row to earn a trip to state, Mansfield is excited to see what his young team can do when they take on Kings at 3:45 p.m. on Wednesday in the opening round of the state tournament at the SunDome in Yakima.
“We’re excited to go to Yakima and see what we can do,” he said.
Moses Lake Chr.-Covenant Chr. 46, Taholah 43
Taholah (15-8) lost 46-43 to Moses Lake Christian-Covenant Christian (16-6) 46-43 on in a 1B Regional game on Saturday at Big Bend Community College.
No further information was provided for this game at the time of this writing.