BELLEVUE — Out of necessity, Kaitlyn Larson plays post for the Stanwood girls basketball team. But the junior’s natural position is guard, and her experience on the perimeter proved beneficial Saturday.
The versatile Larson hit four 3-pointers and scored a game-high 16 points as the No. 5-seeded Spartans earned a bye into the Class 3A state quarterfinals with a 51-45 win over No. 4 seed Bellevue in a non-elimination state regional at Bellevue College.
“I’ve had to play her out of position,” Stanwood coach Dennis Kloke said. “She’s a wing, but we don’t have a post. She’s our most physical individual inside, so I have to.”
Stanwood juniors Ashley Alter and Jillian Heichel added 12 points apiece to complement Larson, but it was the Spartans’ defense that paved the way to victory.
Despite facing a height disadvantage against the taller Wolverines, Stanwood (20-4) held Bellevue to its third-lowest point total of the season. Kloke praised players like senior Ashley Bierer, Larson, Heichel and Alter for their work on the defensive end.
“We had an excellent scouting report and we thought we matched up defensively pretty well, even though they were a lot bigger,” Kloke said. “I was really pleased with the defense.”
By virtue of its top-eight seed, Stanwood entered the game already assured of the program’s first trip to the Tacoma Dome since 1998. The regional win means the Spartans will bypass Wednesday’s loser-out first-round games and face either No. 3 seed Lincoln or No. 11 seed West Seattle in Thursday’s quarterfinals.
“We feel the program is taking the steps forward,” said Kloke, whose Stanwood teams have twice fallen one win short of the Tacoma Dome with regional losses in 2012 and 2013. “This is huge to get to the dome, because that’s what people consider the state tournament.”
After Bellevue (21-4) jumped to an early 5-0 lead, Stanwood answered with 13 straight points while holding the Wolverines scoreless for more than five minutes. Alter helped key the run with eight first-quarter points, including two 3-pointers.
Bellevue countered with 12 straight points to retake the lead, but Larson ended the Stanwood scoring drought with back-to-back 3-pointers to give the Spartans a two-point edge midway through the second quarter. Stanwood sophomore Madison Chisman later made a buzzer-beating lay-in as the first half expired to tie the game at 24.
Stanwood trailed by four points midway through the third quarter, but Larson swished a go-ahead 3-pointer and Alter came up with a steal and layup in the closing seconds of the period to cap a 9-2 run and give the Spartans a 38-35 lead.
Shortly after Bellevue rallied from a five-point deficit to tie the game in the fourth quarter, Heichel swished a pivotal 3-pointer to give Stanwood a 45-42 lead with three minutes left to play.
Then after Bellevue trimmed the margin to a point, Larson hit her fourth 3-pointer of the night to extend the Spartans’ lead to four. Stanwood held Bellevue without a field goal for the final two minutes and salted the game away with free throws.
Seniors Kate Parrish and Ann-Marie Jacobs each scored 11 points for Bellevue.