By Rich Myhre Herald Writer
TACOMA — After a last-second Lake Stevens 3-pointer sent the game to overtime, Arlington girls basketball coach Joe Marsh rallied his team at the bench for a few well-chosen words.
What Marsh said was this: “We’re not done. They made a great shot, good for them, it’s 0-0 now and now let’s go win this thing.”
And the Eagles did exactly that.
In a dramatic, physical and hard-fought game between two Western Conference North rivals, Arlington went ahead midway through overtime and hung on for a 66-64 victory that sends the Eagles into tonight’s 7 p.m. championship game at the Class 4A state tournament.
“We’re such big rivals with Lake Stevens,” Arlington senior forward Lindsay Brown said. “We go back and forth with them all the time. But we just knew that we wanted this, and it was time for the seniors to step up and make it happen.
“I can’t even find words right now,” she added with a grin. “This is unbelievable.”
Arlington, which improved to 22-4, faces top-ranked Mead in tonight’s title game. Mead defeated Mount Rainier 51-50 in Friday’s other semifinal.
“I’m just in shock, to be honest with you,” Marsh said with a grin. “I can’t ask more of a group of basketball players. They just left it all out there, and as a coach that’s all you can ask.
“This is just a tremendous group of girls,” he said. And the chance to play for a state title, he added, “is just so exciting for the community.”
The Eagles spent most of the game playing catch-up against a determined Lake Stevens team that had title aspirations of its own. The Vikings led by seven points after one quarter, eight at halftime, and 12 early in the third period.
But Arlington never buckled. The Eagles tightened their defense in the second half, holding Lake Stevens to just six field goals in the final two quarters, and just one in the fourth period.
“We struggled in the first half,” Marsh said. “Lake Stevens is obviously a great team and they had their way a little bit. But we came in at halftime, settled down and regrouped, and then played tremendous defense in the second half.
“These kids just never quit,” he said. “They just battled.”
Arlington drew within three points at the end of the third quarter, got its first lead since the game’s early moments midway through the fourth period, and then seemed to take control on a Brown 3-pointer and a Winter Brown free throw in the final 35 seconds of regulation.
But Lake Stevens would not go quietly. Senior Brittney Pahukoa dribbled out of backcourt and lifted a 3-point shot from beyond the top of the key that swished as the horn sounded at the end of regulation, sending the game to overtime.
Brown had six points in OT, including another 3-pointer that put the Eagles in front for good. Arlington scored its final four points at the free throw line, and then had enough poise to hold on in the late seconds.
Trailing by three points, Lake Stevens guard Brooke Pahukoa went to the free throw line with 1.7 seconds to play. She made the first shot and deliberately missed the second, but the Eagles gathered the rebound as time expired.
Brown finished with 14 points, 12 rebounds and two blocked shots, while freshman forward Jayla Russ had 23 points and added six rebounds.
“Jayla Russ was just unbelievable for a freshman tonight,” Marsh said. “Just unbelievable.”
“At the beginning of the game I was really nervous,” Russ admitted, “but once I stepped out on the court it was just another game. I just went out there and played my hardest.”
Against Mead tonight, the Eagles will be trying to win the second girls basketball state title in school history. Arlington was the 1982 state champion.
Mead presents “a huge challenge,” Marsh acknowledged. “But you know what? Us getting here was a huge challenge, too, and we’re here. If we go out and play basketball the way we’re capable of, we will battle with anybody.
“Why not us?” he added. “That’s what we keep saying. Why not?”