TACOMA — Size doesn’t always matter in basketball, and the Stanwood girls basketball team proved that it didn’t Wednesday.
The undersized Spartans, who didn’t play anyone over 5-foot-11, dominated the glass against a Prairie squad with a noticable size advantage in the post and made a living putting back second-chance opportunities on the offensive end.
“Every time you get an offensive rebound, that’s another possession,” Spartans coach Dennis Kloke said. “As long as we are on the plus side of the offensive possessions, I feel we have an excellent chance.”
Stanwood (18-6) outrebounded the Falcons (21-5) 39-24, senior Jillian Heichel scored 12 of her team-high 16 points in the second half and the 10th-seeded Spartans held seventh-seeded Prairie to just one made field goal in the fourth quarter on their way to a 49-45 victory in the opening round of the 3A Hardwood Classic at the Tacoma Dome.
“We’re definitely really excited,” said Stanwood junior Madison Chisman, who finished with 12 points. “It’s our first win in the dome as a team together.”
Ashley Alter broke a 34-34 tie with 6:30 remaining in the fourth quarter to give Stanwood a 36-34 lead. Heichel followed it with a putback on an offensive rebound, then answered a pair of made free throws by Prairie with another second-chance basket to make it 40-36.
The Falcons made it a two-point game again with another pair of free throws, then Heichel hit a back-breaking 3-pointer to extend the Spartans’ lead to 43-38 with 2:47 left in fourth quarter.
Prairie made its first field goal of the final period when junior Brooke Walling drained a deep 3-pointer with 3.2 second remaining to cut Stanwood’s lead to 48-45, but Spartans senior Kayla Frazier made one free throw to seal the victory.
Walling had her way with Stanwood early, scoring 16 first-half points on 6 of 7 shooting and notching seven points and an assist during a 9-2 Falcons run to close the first half. Then the Spartans switched to man defense, and senior Kaitlin Larson frustrated the 3A Greater St. Helens League Player of the Year with her physicality on the block.
Larson’s success against the much taller Walling didn’t surprise Kloke.
“She’s had to do that all year,” Kloke said. “She’s always done an excellent job.”
Walling scored a game-high 27 points, but went just 3-of-10 from the field in the second half and was visibly frustrated at times.
“I was just trying my hardest. I don’t know (how to explain it),” Larson said about guarding Walling.
Prairie struggled from the floor in the final 16 minutes, hitting just 5-of-25 field-goal attempts.
“I thought we played much better in the second half,” said Larson, who finished with six points and six rebounds. “I was super proud of how we bounced back from the first half. It’s always hard in your first game in the dome.”
Alter added 10 points and nine rebounds, and Stanwood went 14-of-18 at the free-throw line.
The Spartans advance to face top-seeded Lincoln (24-1) in a quarterfinal matchup at 5:30 p.m. Thursday.
“It’s a little bit of a revenge game,” Larson said, referring to Stanwood’s 53-37 loss to the Abes in last year’s Hardwood Classic. “We’re looking forward to it.”