MONROE — Great players find a way to hit a big shot even when they are struggling. Championship teams find a way to win even when it isn’t their night.
The Stanwood girls basketball team is far from winning any championships, but it exhibited both of those qualities in Wednesday’s 51-46 victory over Monroe in the season opener for both teams.
Playing without junior post Tristan Murphy, and seemingly struggling with the Bearcats’ pressure defense, the Spartans fell behind 4-2 early.
“Give them credit for their pressure, but we put in a whole new look offensively,” Stanwood head coach Dennis Kloke said. “The minute they put a little pressure on us we didn’t do what we needed to do. We didn’t make our cuts. We didn’t come to the ball.”
Stanwood settled down to take a 12-10 advantage after the first quarter behind 3s from sophomore Haley Strowbridge and senior Jillian Jacobs.
Stanwood extended its lead to five at 15-10 on the opening possession of the second quarter thanks to a 3-pointer by junior Julia Heichel. Moments later the Bearcats committed their seventh foul of the half leading to the Spartans shooting free throws for the remainder of the half.
Not only was Monroe in foul trouble as a team, but several of its key players were forced to spend much of the second quarter on the bench with too many fouls, most notably senior post Deidra Miller.
Without Monroe’s top scorer in the game, Stanwood opened up a 21-14 lead midway through the second quarter after freshman Ashley Bierer knocked down two free throws for the first points of her high-school career. The Bearcats answered with a 6-0 run and Stanwood countered with a 6-0 run of its own to close out the half.
Sophomore Kylie Wright’s 3-pointer with just over five seconds remaining in the second quarter gave the Spartans their 27-20 halftime advantage.
“Kylie goes in and does exactly what’s asked of her and sinks the three,” Kloke said. “That’s the game-changer.”
Strowbridge led the Spartans with eight points at halftime, but didn’t score in the second half.
“She’s a good basketball player,” Kloke said. “I expect even more. I expect more consistency.”
Thirteen seconds into the third quarter, Miller picked up her third foul and had to go to the bench. Seven seconds later sophomore Hannah Drivstuen also picked up her third and joined Miller. The Spartans took advantage and extended the lead to 11. It was the Spartans’ best stretch against the Bearcats’ pressure in the game.
“The only time (we handled the pressure well) was when we built the 11-point lead,” Kloke said.
Monroe cut the deficit back to seven at 37-30 by the end of the third quarter.
The Bearcats had failed to make a three in the first three quarters, but senior Jordyn Turner broke that streak on the first possession and added another on the next possession. Miller, who was back in the game after sitting most of the third quarter scored inside on Monroe’s third possession of the third quarter and the Bearcats’ had quickly turned a seven-point deficit into a one-point lead.
It didn’t last long. The Spartans didn’t call timeout, instead they stayed calm and answered the 8-0 run with a 9-0 run of their own. In the process, Miller and Turner were forced back to the bench with four fouls.
“It definitely hurt us offensively,” Monroe head coach Matt Chalfant said. “When Jordyn and Deidra are in the game it’s a whole different ball game. That was our message after the game that no matter who was in the game we have to keep our energy level up.”
Stanwood’s advantage at the free-throw line helped the Spartans build the advantage the ultimately proved to be too much for the Bearcats to overcome.
“That was the difference in the game,” Chalfant said. “They ended up shooting 20-for-29 from the (free-throw) line. Twenty of 51 points is a lot. Personally I think that was the difference in the game.”
The Bearcats made a run in the fourth, but Jacobs’ 3-pointer in the final minute cemented the victory.
At Monroe H.S.
Stanwood—Sierra Palmer 5, Julia Heichel 10, Samantha Powell 11, Haley Strowbridge 8, Jillian Jacobs 8, Janea Taylor 4, Kylie Wright 3, Ashley Bierer 2. Monroe—Kylee Ferreira 2, Jordyn Turner 7, Jordan Noto 0, Emily Donnelly 0, Makenna Connors 0, Hannah Drivstuen 4, Alex Alexander 5, Deidra Miller 13, Chelsea Santjer 6, Amber Van Brunt 9, Loryn Moore 0. 3-point goals—Strowbridge 1, Heichel 1, Wright 1, Jacobs 2, Turner 2. Records—Stanwood 1-0 overall. Monroe 0-1.