By David Krueger Herald Writer
STANWOOD — Out of all of her birthdays, Tuesday night was Renee Lucero’s favorite.
On her 18th birthday the Stanwood senior’s 10 points — seven of which came from the free throw line in the fourth quarter — helped her Spartans come from behind and defeat Skyline 61-50 in a 4A state play-in game at Stanwood High School.
“It’s the best feeling ever,” Lucero said of the win after the game. “This is the best birthday present.”
Lucero had to hold off on the cake and celebration, because her team, the Wesco No. 3 seed, was playing Skyline, the No. 3 seed out of the Kingco conference, for a trip to the regional round of the state tournament on Saturday.
Skyline, whose mascot is also the Spartans, jumped out to an early lead, up 31-21 at halftime. But Stanwood settled down in the second half, executed on offense and outscored Skyline 38-19 over the final two quarters to win the contest and send Stanwood to the state tournament for the first time since 1998, when Stanwood was a 3A school.
“Obviously to be down what we were down and be able to pull it off is a testament to how bad the young ladies wanted it,” Stanwood head coach Dennis Kloke said.
Trailing most of the way, Stanwood took its first lead since the opening minutes of the game with four minutes, 15 seconds to play. Senior Samantha Kelleigh stole the ball away from Skyline and passed it up the court to an open Jade Bosworth who laid it in and made the score 43-42. The teams traded leads until Rachel Swartz put the Stanwood Spartans ahead by one with two free throws with 3:40 to go.
Moments later Tristan Murphy made a basket in the post, Kelleigh connected on a wide-open 3-pointer and Lucero converted from the free-throw line. The game was history.
“We feel we can beat anybody on any given night, and if we don’t play well we can be beaten,” Kloke said.
At halftime, Kloke asked his players to slow the pace of the game down, and run their offensive plays, which involved getting the ball into the posts. In the second half, his team did just that. Stanwood shot the ball close to the hoop, and got Skyline in foul trouble by the end of the third quarter.
“That’s our strength,” Kloke said. “I have four kids that can play post, and play it well. I don’t think there are many teams like that.”
Five Stanwood players finished with 10 points: Lucero, Kelleigh, Swartz, Murphy (who also grabbed 10 rebounds) and Paisley Heckman (who had nine boards).
“We just knew that we were good enough,” Lucero said. “We worked way too hard all offseason to lose now.”
Kloke said that Lucero’s birthday didn’t start out the best on the court, but in the second half she, along with the rest of her team, got the job done.
“Coach was kind of hard on her,” Kloke said with a smile. “But she responded. She was money in the fourth quarter from the free-throw line.”
Once the game got down to the final minute, Kloke knew whose hands he wanted to have the ball in. The Stanwood coach said his senior point guard has shot 97 percent from the free throw line in the fourth quarter this season.
“I’ll take those odds anytime,” he said.
Skyline’s Megan Wiedeman had seven of her 12 points in the first quarter, and Morgan Farrar added seven of her nine in the second quarter to help their team lead early.
But as Stanwood came back to life in the second half, and so did the hometown crowd.
“The crowd had a huge impact in the second half, putting pressure on Skyline when we started making our run,” Kloke said.
The victory means Stanwood is going to the state tournament for the first time in more than 10 years. The Spartans face Federal Way on Saturday at 4 p.m. at Auburn High School.
Kloke is excited for his players, especially his seven seniors, who have spent their entire high school careers trying to get Stanwood into the final group of 16 teams.
“It’s been a goal to get to state,” Kloke said. “It’s a huge game for the school and the community.”
But before any of that starts, Lucero planned to have a simple ending to the best birthday of her life so far.
“I’m going to get some sleep and be ready for practice (Wednesday),” she said with a smile.
At Stanwood H.S.
Skyline—Nicholson 2, Shim 5, Wiedeman 12, Farrar 9, Tinker 3, Smith 10, Daugherty 0, Kassuba 1, Wyszynski 6. Stanwood—Kelleigh 10, Lucero 10, Bingham 1, Ta. Murphy 2, Borseth 6, Swartz 10, Heckman 10, Tr. Murphy 10. 3-point goals—Farrar 1, Tinker 1, Kelleigh 2, Lucero 1. Records—Stanwood 22-2. Skyline 17-8.