By Jon Saperstein Herald Writer
MILL CREEK — Knowing that the Wesco 4A South is such a tough, competitive league, coach Mark Haner and the Jackson girls basketball team knew that to compete for the crown it would need to go undefeated against the North.
Standing in the Timberwolves’ way Wednesday night was the Arlington Eagles, ranked No. 9 by the Associated Press. Jackson didn’t blink after squandering a 18-point first-half lead, and held on for a 58-56 victory.
“The biggest thing for us is that, we wanted to be able to sweep the north and this gives us five-for-five,” Haner said.
On a night when University of Washington recruit Kelli Kingma made one field goal, plenty of other Timberwolves stepped up offensively, most notably Faithaleen Lopez-Flores and Sierra Anderson. Both scored 18 points to tie for team-high honors.
“Playing such a great team of course you are going to get a little nervous toward the end,” Anderson said. “I just had a lot of faith in my team that we were going to be able to come out with it in the end.”
Anderson had two huge old-fashioned three-point plays to go with a pair of 3s. She was fouled in the lane on a scoop shot with 3:18 to go with her basket and foul shot giving Jackson a 54-48 edge. As the Arlington (7-3 league, 12-3 overall) defense clamped down, the Timberwolves (8-1, 12-2) managed just two more baskets in the final two minutes.
“We kind of whittled away the clock at the end,” Haner said. “We weren’t generating a lot of offense just the timely offense that we needed to extend the lead.”
Though the Eagles never led in the game, coach Joe Marsh felt like this was a game that his team should have won.
“We had plenty of opportunities to win that game and we gave them away at the free throw line,” Marsh said. “You cannot miss 15 free throws against a team that good and expect to win.”
Jackson by comparison weathered a 21-11 foul disadvantage and made all eight of its free throws.
After a slow start, Arlington began playing like the ninth-ranked team in the state. Sparked by sophomore Jayla Russ, the Eagles outscored Jackson 42-26 in the final 18 minutes of the game.
“It’s a tough one. It’s a squandered opportunity,” Marsh said. “For two-and-a-half quarters, we played great. We decided in the second half to come out and buckle down and play great defense.”
Russ had just two points the opening 14 minutes, but a fast break layin with 1:15 to play in the half ignited a seven-point spurt at the end of the half that trimmed the deficit to 34-23 and gave Arlington a chance.
Russ briefly left the court in the final minute with an apparent ankle injury, but came back with 15.9 seconds to play only to watch as the score-tying shot fell short. Russ finished with a game-high 19 points. Teammate Lyndsay Leatherman chipped in 14.
Despite Kingma being held to six points on the night, the senior picked it up everywhere else on the floor.
“I thought she played exceptionally well,” Haner said. “She created a lot of steals, rebounded well, defended well, ran the break well. The outside shot just wasn’t falling.”
Kingma’s teammates were happy to carry the load that their teammate often does.
“Kell’s a great player,” Anderson said. “As a team we’ve been doing a lot better trying to take some of that load off her. She’s (going to play at) UW and everything, so a lot of people put pressure on her. Today we were playing as a team trying to get everyone the ball and mix it all around.”
Before Arlington’s defense woke up, Jackson played about as unselfish as possible, jumping out to 7-0, 14-4 and 32-14 leads. Lack of rebounding on both ends kept them from putting the game away in the first half.
“First half really did hurt us on the interior,” Haner said. “If we’d be able to clean up a bit better in the first half it might have been different.”
Haner really felt proud the way the team didn’t let this one slip away.
“In the second half it was going to be about grit, because it wasn’t falling for us,” he said.
Early in the season Jackson let a 22-point lead slip away at Edmonds-Woodway and now, with the North out of the way, the T-Wolves face a brutal stretch that includes two games with No. 1 Lynnwood and the anticipated rematch with the Warriors. The next four games will likely decide the South champion. Jackson is one game behind Lynnwood, which sits undefeated in league play atop the standings.
“We’ve been really looking forward to it,” Anderson said of the next four games. “Especially the Woodway game. We’re playing a lot better together (than we were the first time). I think we understand our team better, so I’m excited for it.”
At Jackson H.S.
Arlington 9 14 15 18 — 56
Jackson 19 15 10 14 — 58
Arlington—Castandeda 3, Balderas 0, Biesler 3, Larson 8, Janousek 0, Modahl 0, Ludwig 8, Russ 19, Leatherman 15. Jackson—Lopez-Flores 18, Anderson 18, Kingma 6, Clinton 4, Kipp 3, Johnson 4, Locknane 5, Boyd 0. 3-Point Goals—Lopez-Flores 2, Anderson 2, Kipp, Locknane, Biesler, Russ. Records—Arlington(7-3, league 12-3 overall), Jackson (8-1, 12-2)