ARLINGTON — The Arlington High School girls basketball team found itself in a dogfight against its archrival.
With the game hanging in the balance down the stretch, Jenna Villa provided the separating burst the Eagles needed.
Villa ignited a late 10-0 run with a 3-pointer and a tough layup on back-to-back possessions, helping Arlington pull away for a 57-47 win over visiting Stanwood in a showdown Saturday night between two of Wesco 3A/2A’s top teams.
“It’s really a luxury to have a player of her kind of skill,” Eagles coach Joe Marsh said. “We have all the confidence in the world in her. … We know good things are gonna happen when the ball is in her hands.”
Villa, a versatile 6-foot-2 junior guard, finished with 15 points. Standout senior point guard Keira Marsh also scored 15 points for Arlington (5-1, 3-0 Wesco 3A/2A), which battled through an uncharacteristically rough night on offense to take down one of its top potential challengers for the league title.
“Stanwood did a really good job tonight,” Joe Marsh said. “It’s always a battle between these two teams, so I’m just really proud of the kids for gutting it out in that second half. … This is an important win for us against one of the top teams in the league.”
The sharpshooting Villa didn’t have her best night from the field, but came through when it mattered most.
After the Spartans (5-2, 3-1) tied the game at 43-43 with 4:35 to play, Villa immediately answered by draining a go-ahead 3-pointer with her smooth shooting stroke.
Then on Arlington’s next possession, Villa showcased her skill off the dribble. She received the ball on the perimeter, drove toward the hoop, slid past a defender with a perfectly executed Euro step and finished with a left-handed scoop layup to give the Eagles a five-point lead.
“My offense wasn’t really coming to me as it usually does, but my team needed me and I knew it was gonna come eventually,” Villa said. “… And (it) did when they needed me to.”
Arlington freshman Kierra Reese added a 3-pointer with 2:15 to play and Keira Marsh followed with a pair of free throws, stretching the margin to 53-43 and effectively sealing the victory.
Sophomore guard Samara Morrow, freshman guard Jersey Walker and Reese each finished with eight points for the Eagles.
Walker, a recent varsity callup, scored all eight of her points in the second half — including a pair of key 3-pointers.
“That was just huge for us,” Joe Marsh said.
Junior guard Grace Walker led Stanwood with 17 points, while 6-foot-4 junior post Vivienne Berrett added 12 points.
The Spartans frustrated Arlington’s high-octane attack for much of the night. And midway through the fourth quarter, they were threatening to upset an Eagles team that’s widely considered to be among the best Class 3A squads in the state.
But in the final four minutes, Stanwood fizzled out and mustered just four points. And the Spartans struggled all night from the foul line, where they made just 7 of 20 free throws.
However, first-year Stanwood coach Alex Iverson was encouraged by what he saw.
“I thought we played really well,” Iverson said. “We definitely ran out of gas there (in) the fourth quarter. And obviously, credit to Arlington. They hit some big shots there down the stretch, and that’s what good teams do.
“Arlington is known to be very aggressive,” he added, “and I thought we matched their energy, if not surpassed it. And so I was really proud of these young ladies tonight for answering the bell.”
The Spartans delivered the first punch, jumping to an early 9-2 lead midway through the first quarter.
The Eagles came charging back, using their full-court press to force turnovers and create a series of transition opportunities. In a span of just over four minutes, Arlington rattled off 16 consecutive points and built an 18-9 lead early in the second quarter.
However, the Eagles were overaggressive on defense for the rest of the half and committed a bevy of fouls that helped Stanwood close the gap. Grace Walker hit a 3-pointer in the closing seconds to tie the game at 26-26 heading into the break.
“We just fouled them right back into the game,” Joe Marsh said.
Arlington trailed for much of the third quarter, but Jersey Walker drilled a corner 3-pointer to make it 35-35 entering the final period.
Keira Marsh and Jersey Walker added a pair of 3s early in the fourth to give the Eagles a 43-39 lead. Stanwood followed with a pair of baskets to tie the game, but Arlington responded with its game-sealing 10-0 run to pull away.
“I think just calming down on defense and really just being solid on the defensive end was the big thing for us,” Joe Marsh said.
Like many local teams, Arlington and Stanwood were both battling the effects of long layoffs. Numerous games around the area have been canceled in recent weeks due to COVID-19 protocols.
Saturday marked Stanwood’s first game in 17 days and Arlington’s second game in 24 days.
“Having three weeks off with no games, we kind of rolled the ball out there and (saw) where we’re at,” Iverson said. “There was a little nervousness and rust.”
Arlington went more than three weeks between games prior to Friday night, when it faced 4A state title contender Tahoma in a non-league contest Joe Marsh scheduled the day before. The Eagles suffered their first loss of the season, falling 81-64 in a fast-paced affair.
“We should be in midseason condition right now and we’re not,” Joe Marsh said. “And that’s the problem. We’re trying to get back to that.”