ARLINGTON — The Arlington High School girls basketball team used its high-pressure defense to race to a commanding first-half lead.
Then after watching that big lead almost entirely disappear in the second half, the Eagles clamped down and fended off Snohomish down the stretch.
And now, Arlington is on the cusp of a conference title.
Jenna Villa scored 19 points and the Class 3A third-ranked Eagles leaned on their defense to beat fifth-ranked Snohomish 57-44 on Monday night in a late-season battle for first place atop Wesco 3A/2A.
“I’m really proud of our fight,” Arlington coach Joe Marsh said of his team’s response to the Panthers’ second-half push. “… We regrouped and found ourselves. (We) came back and got some stops and some buckets and pulled away finally.”
With the victory, the Eagles (10-2, 8-0 Wesco 3A/2A) are now all alone atop the Wesco 3A/2A standings as the only remaining unbeaten in conference play.
Snohomish (9-2, 4-1) is now one of three one-loss teams in league play, along with Stanwood and Archbishop Murphy.
Arlington has just two scheduled league games remaining — against Cedarcrest on Saturday and Archbishop Murphy next Wednesday. If the Eagles win both, they’ll secure the Wesco 3A/2A crown.
“This was a huge game,” Marsh said. “I mean, it’s a league title game. And we knew that coming in. … (This) puts us in the driver’s seat.”
Arlington set the tone from the opening tip with its full-court pressure, which left Snohomish out of sorts early on. The Panthers committed a slew of turnovers in the first half and struggled to find any sort of offensive rhythm, going scoreless for a six-minute stretch at one point.
The Eagles took advantage of Snohomish’s struggles, pushing the pace for transition baskets while rattling off a 25-5 first-half run. Villa, a highly skilled 6-foot-2 junior, had several nice assists during that stretch and drained a deep 3-pointer that pushed Arlington’s lead to 32-12 late in the half.
“That’s what we do,” Marsh said of his team’s pressure defense. “When we’re playing at our best, it’s that kind of pace and pressure. … That’s our thing.”
But Snohomish eventually settled down. And then, it was the Eagles’ turn to go ice-cold.
After the Panthers came out with a 2-3 zone defense in the second half, Arlington’s high-octane offense suddenly went quiet.
Snohomish climbed back into the game with a 16-3 run, holding the Eagles to just three points over the first 11-plus minutes of the second half. Standout senior guard Ella Gallatin capped the Panthers’ surge with a basket that trimmed Arlington’s lead to 38-35 with 6:20 to play.
“They came out in their zone and we struggled a little bit with that,” Marsh said. “… We just got tentative.”
But just when it looked like Arlington was on the verge of a massive collapse, the Eagles’ standout duo turned the tide.
With her team clinging to a three-point lead near the midway point of the fourth quarter, Villa drove to the basket and converted a tough three-point play.
Just moments later, senior guard Keira Marsh stole a pass and raced downcourt for a layup to stretch Arlington’s lead to 43-35 with 3:55 remaining.
“Those two, they’ve been making plays for us all year,” Joe Marsh said. “We rely on them for those big plays, and they’ve been doing it consistently.
“Jenna, you could see that she had that look in her eye and it was time to get a bucket and get to the rim,” he added. “And Keira, she’s been doing that her whole career — getting in passing lanes and going and laying it up. So that was great for us.”
Snohomish had a chance to trim the margin again on its next possession, when it got four free throws as a result of a personal foul and a technical foul. But the Panthers squandered the opportunity, making just 1 of 4 from the line.
After that, the Eagles pushed the margin to double digits and put the game out of reach.
“We had our chances to get all the way over the hump, and we just didn’t quite get there,” Snohomish coach Ken Roberts said.
Gallatin, an Eastern Washington University signee who tied a school record with 38 points against Lake Stevens last week, led the Panthers with 25 points. But Snohomish didn’t get much offensive production elsewhere and was held more than 16 points below its season average.
“We threw the ball all around the court to the wrong team,” Roberts said. “I mean, they press and stuff, but there were a lot of unforced throwaways that were frustrating. It was nice to see the girls come back in the third quarter, but honestly, we never functioned really well on offense all game.
“They outworked us,” he added. “If you look at the hustle plays and rebounding, they killed us on the boards. … I thought that was one of the big differences.”
Keira Marsh, a Division II-bound Cal State East Bay signee, finished with 12 points for Arlington. Senior guard Hannah Rork added nine points and sophomore forward Katie Snow chipped in eight points for the Eagles.
“It was huge, honestly,” Keira Marsh said of beating the Panthers. “… We’re really hoping to get that league championship, district championship and hopefully state championship. So it’s really a good stepping point for us.”