By Alex Bosworth For The Enterprise
In a matchup between the top two girls basketball teams in the Cascade Conference — one undefeated in league and the other with only one loss — one might expect the end result to go either contestant’s way.
But when one of those teams is the Archbishop Murphy girls basketball team, which hasn’t lost a Cascade Conference game in over two years? Well, then it becomes a little more clear cut: There are the Wildcats, and then there is everyone else.
Murphy proved that again against Sultan, holding off several early runs by the Turks, dominating inside when it needed to, and hitting enough 3-pointers to keep the Sultan defense honest on its way to a convincing 72-49 victory Feb. 2 at Sultan High School.
With the victory Archbishop Murphy clinches a berth into the Class 2A District 1 playoffs.
“(The coaches) are really happy,” said Archbishop Murphy head coach John Barhanovich, who estimated his team has won around 40 Cascade Conference games in a row, spanning this season and parts of the previous three. “… Sultan is a very good team. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re able to make it out of districts and into state.”
Senior guard Sam Pettinger led the way with 11 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds, post Savannah Fletcher added a game-high 17 points and six rebounds, and guard Shelby Lyman added 15 points on five 3-pointers — including two back-to-back shots toward the end of the second quarter to put the score out of reach.
In short, a lot went right for Archbishop Murphy, which improved to 9-0 in the Cascade Conference in an impressive season-sweep of a talented Sultan squad.
Barring an unlikely collapse, Murphy is on pace to win its third Cascade Conference title in as many years. Murphy, which won its 13th game in a row, is now ranked fifth in the state by The Tacoma News Tribune.
Coach Barhanovich was quick to credit his team’s defense.
“We played really good defense,” Barhanovich said. “… I thought the kids took our game plan and really (worked) it.”
A big part of that game plan was shutting down Sultan’s leading scorer, Bianca O’Hara, who scored 20 points against Murphy the first time the two teams met in early January.
On Tuesday, Murphy helped out on screens and denied her easy looks, holding O’Hara scoreless at halftime, and to just six points for the game.
But Sultan, in second place in the Cascade Conference, did not go quietly early.
Down by as many as 11 points in the first quarter, Sultan rallied behind the play of senior guard Courtney Batts and forward Cassie Beucherie.
Batts, who finished with 12 points for Sultan, hit a layup and converted a foul shot, Alyssa Haney made a basket inside as time expired in the first quarter, and Beucherie opened the second quarter by hitting a 3-pointer and, on Sultan’s next possession, scoring inside.
Just like that, Sultan drew to within four points, 18-14, with 5:48 remaining in the second.
Murphy called time-out, and immediately used its size inside to its advantage.
Six-foot freshman post Beth Carlson scored, then Fletcher, a 6-foot-2 post, split a pair of free throws and passed to Carlson for another basket. Shelby Lyman, who hit five 3-pointers in the game, hit back to back-to-back 3-pointers out of designed plays in the closing moments, the last of which put the Wildcats up 33-18.
Alex Bosworth writes for The Herald.