TACOMA — The Glacier Peak girls basketball team hasn’t played a lot of close games this season. The Grizzlies have dominated opponents all year long, winning by an average of 27 points per contest, and with the exception of their season-opening loss to Stanwood, they certainly haven’t been in danger of losing in the waning seconds.
In the last few minutes of its 4A Hardwood Classic quarterfinal contest against Sunnyside on Thursday, Glacier Peak was definitely in danger of losing the game. Real danger. But somehow, someway, Glacier Peak found a way to persevere through an unfamiliar situation, survive and advance.
Kayla Watkins made two free throws with 16 seconds to go to lift Glacier Peak to a thrilling 48-47 win at the Tacoma Dome.
The victory sends Glacier Peak into a semifinal contest against Moses Lake at 9 p.m. Friday.
Sunnyside had a seven-point lead with 3 minutes, 40 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, but Glacier Peak finished the contest with a 10-2 run.
“Sunnyside was trying to take the wind out of our sails and run down the clock. The clock was their friend at that point,” said Glacier Peak coach Brian Hill. “We changed our defense a bit, and we were able to get shots from the people that we wanted to get shots from, and we got some rebounds.
“(Our players) are gamers. They just don’t like to lose. Even when their backs are against the wall.”
After Watkins’ free throws gave Glacier Peak (23-1) a 48-47 lead with 16 seconds to go, Sunnyside’s Emilee Maldonado missed a shot, which was rebounded by Glacier Peak’s Paisley Johnson.
Johnson was fouled and missed a free-throw attempt with four seconds remaining. Maldonado’s ensuing buzzer-beating shot attempt missed the mark, and Glacier Peak’s players stormed the court in celebration.
“We just didn’t give up,” Watkins said. “Being down just gave us more fire to do well.”
Watkins, who’s made 76 percent of her free throws this season, embraced the opportunity to put her team ahead late in the game.
“Every player dreams of that moment,” she said. “Knocking them down was special. Hill doesn’t let us leave the gym every day without making our free throws.”
After a back-and-forth first quarter, Glacier Peak went on an 11-0 run early in the second period to take a 24-14 lead.
But based on what it did in its Wednesday loser-out contest, Sunnyside probably never thought it was out of Thursday’s game. Down by 15 points to Auburn Riverside late in the third quarter Wednesday, Sunnyside went on a 24-0 run en route to a 55-46 victory.
In the third quarter of Thursday’s game, Sunnyside outscored Glacier Peak 17-8 to take a 37-35 lead. The Columbia Basin Big Nine squad extended its advantage to 45-38 with 3:40 to go in the fourth quarter.
“Hats off to Glacier Peak. They played a great game,” Sunnyside coach Enrique Puente said. “We gave a quality team a run for its money. That’s all I can ask for. The girls gave it their best effort. Basketball is a game of runs, and their run came at the end.”
Watkins finished with 18 points and eight rebounds. Teammate Paisley Johnson added 13 points and seven rebounds.
“This team is very special,” Watkins said. “We never give up on each other. There’s no fighting. Everything’s positive. There’s no team like this. I’m blessed to be a part of it. There’s no other team I’d rather play with.”