TACOMA — The Arlington girls basketball team put a major scare into the unbeaten defending state champs.
And heading into the fourth quarter, it looked like the Eagles might be the ones playing for the gold ball Saturday night.
But then, it all unraveled.
No. 2-seeded Garfield outscored Arlington 23-3 in the fourth quarter and pulled away to hand the third-seeded Eagles a heartbreaking 56-42 loss in a Class 3A Hardwood Classic semifinal Friday night in the Tacoma Dome.
“I’m really happy with everything our kids did tonight, except for about a three-minute stretch in the fourth quarter,” Arlington coach Joe Marsh said. “That’s really what it (came) down to.”
It was the Eagles’ second consecutive state semifinal loss to Garfield, which smothered Arlington 53-36 in the 2020 state semifinals during its 3A state championship run.
Friday’s rematch played out much differently. The Eagles went toe to toe with the Metro League juggernaut for most of the night and took a six-point lead into the fourth quarter.
But in the end, the result was the same: Garfield is headed to the title game, while Arlington’s championship dreams are dashed.
“We’re disappointed,” Marsh said. “We’re here to win the whole thing, so it’s tough for these kids. They’re feeling some pain right now. But I’m extremely proud of what we’ve accomplished.”
The Eagles gave Garfield (20-0) a serious challenge — something hardly any other team has even come close to doing this season.
Although this year’s Garfield team is almost an entirely different group than the 2020 state championship squad, these Bulldogs have been even more dominant. Led by an elite backcourt duo of Division I recruits Malia Samuels and Katie Fiso, Garfield entered Friday having outscored opponents by 38.2 points per game and having won all but one of its contests by double digits.
And yet, the Eagles looked every bit the Bulldogs’ equal for most of the night.
“It was a great basketball game,” Marsh said. “I don’t think anybody thought we had a chance, and we came out and we battled with them every step of the way. Except for three minutes in the fourth quarter, we’re right there with them.”
Arlington (20-3) pulled in front while outscoring Garfield 14-6 in the third quarter, including a buzzer-beating basket by standout Jenna Villa that gave the Eagles a 39-33 lead entering the final period.
But in the fourth, Arlington went ice-cold. The Eagles were held scoreless for the first five minutes of the quarter and didn’t make their first field goal of the period until the game’s final minute.
And as Arlington was struggling to score, Samuels and Fiso propelled Garfield on a 13-0 run that flipped a six-point deficit into a 46-39 lead.
“We had some just not great offensive possessions,” Marsh said. “All the things that we’d been doing — moving the ball, being patient — we just kind of got away from them. And then they go on their run and away they go. That’s the difference in the game.”
Fiso, considered by ESPN as one of the nation’s top sophomore point guards, led the Bulldogs with 25 points and six rebounds. Samuels, a four-star point guard who is ranked by ESPN as the nation’s No. 50 junior recruit, added 15 points, six rebounds and five assists.
“That’s tough,” Marsh said of facing Garfield’s backcourt duo. “That’s two of the best guards in the state.
“I thought we did a pretty good job of containing them for the most part,” he added. “… But they’re a tough combo to handle.”
Arlington got off to a rough start, falling behind 8-0 in the opening minutes while struggling against Garfield’s three-quarter-court pressure. But the Eagles quickly settled in, rattling off nine straight points to take a brief lead.
The rest of the first half was a mostly back-and-forth affair, with the Bulldogs taking a 27-25 edge into the break.
Arlington hung with mighty Garfield despite its top two players — Villa and standout senior Keira Marsh — combining for just 10 points in the first half. But with the Bulldogs keying on the Eagles’ one-two punch, other players stepped up.
“When you get to this level, people know who (Jenna and Keira) are,” Joe Marsh said. “They’re gonna do stuff to stop them, and we need other people to step up. And I think kids have just found a way.”
Arlington opened the second half with a designed play that led to a go-ahead 3-pointer by Villa, which set the stage for an efficient offensive stretch for the Eagles. Arlington scored several baskets off well-executed offensive sets in the third quarter and took a six-point lead into the fourth after Villa’s buzzer-beater.
After that, things fell apart for Arlington.
Early in the fourth quarter, Samuels scored a pair of baskets off a nice step-through move and a scoop layup off the glass to pull the Bulldogs within a point.
Soon after, freshman Sarah Lessig hit a short go-ahead jumper and converted a basket inside to give Garfield a 42-39 edge.
Fiso then hit a pair of free throws and scored off an assist from talented freshman Jayda Lewis to stretch the margin. And just moments later, Fiso reciprocated by assisting Lewis for a transition bucket that made it 48-40 with 2:33 to play.
The Bulldogs then closed it out from the free-throw line to reach the state championship game for the third time in the past four state tournaments.
“It’s the way the game is,” Joe Marsh said. “Somebody’s gotta win and somebody’s gotta lose.”
Villa, a four-star prospect who’s ranked by ESPN as the No. 55 junior recruit in the nation, led Arlington with 14 points. The 6-foot-2 junior guard also had five rebounds and six assists.
Keira Marsh, a three-year starting point guard and Cal State East Bay signee, added eight points, five rebounds and four assists for the Eagles. And sophomore forward Katie Snow was an impact player inside for Arlington, scoring all six of her points in the first half and finishing with 12 rebounds.
“What a great game,” Joe Marsh said. “We’d love to be on the other end of it, of course. But when we get back and take a look and get some perspective, it was just a great game and a great effort from our kids.”
Garfield advanced to face No. 4 seed Lake Washington in Saturday night’s state championship game, which will be a rematch of the Bulldogs’ 2020 title game victory over the Kangaroos.
Arlington will face top-seeded Mead in the third/fifth-place game at 1 p.m. Saturday. The Eagles have already secured their fifth state trophy in the past nine state tournaments. With a win, Arlington would earn back-to-back third-place state trophies.
“We’ve got one more tomorrow,” Joe Marsh said. “We’re gonna go win a trophy. So we’re gonna lick our wounds tonight and feel some pain, and then get ready to go and come out and finish our season the right way.”