TACOMA — After a disappointing showing in last year’s Hardwood Classic, the Stanwood girls basketball team has been hungry all season for another chance to prove itself in the Tacoma Dome.
The 10th-seeded Spartans are certainly making the most of their return trip.
Stanwood advanced to the state semifinals for the first time in program history with a 49-39 upset win over top-seeded Lincoln in a Class 3A Hardwood Classic quarterfinal Thursday night.
“We just want to show what we’re capable of,” Spartans senior Jillian Heichel said.
Stanwood (19-6) will face third-seeded Garfield at 7:15 p.m. Friday for a spot in the state championship game. Garfield advanced on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer that lifted the Bulldogs to a 47-44 quarterfinal win over Kamiakin.
“We’re not done,” Stanwood coach Dennis Kloke said after his team’s historic victory. “We are honestly just taking it one game at a time. We enjoy each other so much. … We just don’t want it to end.”
The victory avenged Stanwood’s 53-37 loss to Lincoln in last year’s state quarterfinals, when the Spartans struggled under the bright lights of the Tacoma Dome in their first Hardwood Classic appearance since 1998.
Stanwood, which beat seventh-seeded Prairie in Wednesday’s opening round, was ready for the big stage this time.
“I think this year we went (to Tacoma) with a lot under our belts, knowing how it feels to play on the court,” Spartans senior standout Ashley Alter said. “It’s honestly just so exciting and so rewarding to win these games.”
The matchup pitted a classic battle of strengths, with Stanwood averaging 62.7 points per game and Lincoln (24-2) allowing just 31.4 points per contest.
The high-scoring Spartans matched Lincoln’s prowess on defense, holding the Abes 21 points below their season average. It was Lincoln’s second-lowest scoring output of the season.
“This game came down to defense and us executing the rotations,” Alter said.
Lincoln had a significant interior size advantage with 6-foot-3 freshman Sharayah Johnson and 6-foot-2 senior A’shia Donahue, but the Abes struggled to find an offensive rhythm against senior post Kaitlin Larson and Stanwood’s 2-3 matchup zone defense.
The Spartans held Lincoln scoreless for the game’s first four minutes and limited the Abes to just 16-of-63 shooting (25.4 percent) in the physical, grind-it-out slugfest.
“We get that in club (ball),” Alter said of the game’s physicality. “(But) it was the first time we’d played that physical of a game as a high school team.”
Heichel led Stanwood with 14 points, while Alter added 12 points and four steals. Junior Madison Chisman and sophomore Shelby Lund each scored eight points for the Spartans, who snapped Lincoln’s 18-game winning streak.
“We knew that they were the No. 1 seed going into this,” Alter said, “(but) we just kind of put that aside and looked at them as another team that we had to try to beat.”
Johnson led Lincoln with 16 points and junior guard Faith Brantley added 13, including all seven of the Abes’ first-quarter points.
Alter capped the opening period with a deep, buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give Stanwood an early 8-7 edge.
Heichel scored seven points in the second quarter to push the Spartans’ lead to 21-14, but Lincoln cut the margin to 23-21 by halftime.
The Abes tied the game several times in the third quarter, but never pulled in front. Stanwood broke a 31-31 tie with two quick baskets in the final minute of the period, with the latter coming off an Alter backcourt steal that led to a Lund putback with six seconds to play.
Midway through the fourth, Larson assisted Alter for an inside-out 3-pointer that stretched the Spartans’ lead to 41-35. Lincoln later trimmed the gap to three points, but the 5-foot-6 Lund answered by driving inside for a pivotal basket that made it 44-39 with 1:22 to play.
“Those were some big girls (on Lincoln),” Lund said. “I’m tiny out there and driving to the hoop is not something that I do a lot, (but) my coach has been urging me to do it. And so when I did, it was pretty nice.”
On the ensuing Lincoln possession, Larson blocked a shot and helped Stanwood get the ball back. The Spartans then sank several free throws to pull away for the historic win.
“We took it play by play, and we just all worked together so well,” Alter said. “And when we do that, we’re almost unstoppable.”