TACOMA — Brian Hill paused for a moment before talking about the Glacier Peak girls basketball team’s seniors after the Grizzlies’ 4A Hardwood Classic semifinal game against Moses Lake on Friday at the Tacoma Dome. For a slight moment, he was overcome with emotion.
Hill, Glacier Peak’s coach, has developed a strong bond with the senior class, which includes NCAA Division-I recruits Samantha Fatkin, Paisley Johnson and Kayla Watkins.
“I know I’ll miss them,” Hill said. “I know I appreciate that they bought into the system and that they believed in me. I hope they know I believe in them. Hard work pays off. I give all of the credit to them. They deserve it.”
Fatkin, Johnson and Watkins came up big in big moments in the Grizzlies’ 55-51 win over the Chiefs. As a result, Glacier Peak will play for a state championship.
The Grizzlies’ ‘Big Three’ scored 19 of the team’s 21 second-half points.
“They’re gamers,” Hill said. “They want the ball in their hands at the end of a game. They don’t feel like they necessarily have to take the last shot, but they want to win, and they want to work together to win.”
Glacier Peak (24-1), winners of 24 straight games, will play Kentridge in Saturday’s 4A championship game at 7 p.m. The Chargers (25-5) vanquished top-seeded Kentlake, a South Puget Sound League 4A rival, on Thursday, then beat Bellarmine Prep 54-41 in a Friday semifinal contest.
A day after being pushed to the brink by Sunnyside only to emerge in the waning seconds with a one-point win in a quarterfinal contest, the Grizzlies were once again tested by a top-tier Columbia Basin Big Nine team. But once again, Glacier Peak found a way to win.
Friday’s contest was close throughout, with 10 ties and eight lead changes. Neither team led by more than five points.
“When the game’s that tight, it’s not nerve-wracking, but every possession counts,” said Johnson, who led Glacier Peak with 17 points. “You want to put your best effort into everything you do.”
The Grizzlies took the lead for good with 3 minutes, 33 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter on a Kayla Watkins layup that gave Glacier Peak a 48-46 advantage.
The Grizzlies led 34-31 at halftime. Johnson’s steal, layup and ensuing free throw gave Glacier Peak a 44-40 lead with 2:23 left in the third period, and the Grizzlies led 44-42 at the end of the quarter.
Four Glacier Peak players scored in double figures — Johnson, Fatkin (15 points, six assists), Nicole Jensen (11 points) and Watkins (10 points, six rebounds).
“With all of the threats that we have,” Johnson said, “we knew they couldn’t stop all five of us. It would take a great defense to do that. We went on the attack.”
Hill, knowing his team had plenty of offensive firepower, has emphasized defensive improvement all season long, and that’s been evident in the Grizzlies’ last two games. The Chiefs scored just nine points in the fourth quarter of Friday’s contest.
“Our defense has really stepped up over the last month,” Hill said. “It’s been a team effort.”
“Hill has made sure that we focus on defense,” Johnson said. “It’s all we do, and we’re starting to grasp (its importance). It’s a big part of the game, and we’re giving 100 percent on every play.”
Glacier Peak’s defense was tested Friday by a Moses Lake squad that features a variety of offensive threats. But several of the Chiefs’ 13 turnovers came at crucial moments in the fourth quarter.
“You can’t afford to make mistakes in crunch-time situations against a team like that,” said Chiefs coach Dave Strophy. “(Glacier Peak) is a senior-dominant, experienced team, and they make things difficult if you give them opportunities.”
Now the Grizzlies will have an opportunity to win the first state championship game in the brief history of the program.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet,” Hill said. “It’s a game we want to win, and it’d be fantastic if we can pull it off. Either way we’re coming home with a trophy, but one would be nicer than the other. But (no matter what happens) it’s been a great year. It’ll be fun. We’re excited.”
“It’s surreal,” Johnson said. “We’re excited that we’re tired. We’re excited to push ourselves. We have the motivation — we want to leave a legacy.”