SNOHOMISH — The Glacier Peak High School girls basketball team nearly pulled off the most improbable of comebacks.
After falling into a massive first-quarter hole and trailing by 19 points at halftime, the Grizzlies stormed all the way back to take a fourth-quarter lead.
And then, after reigning Class 3A state runner-up Mt. Spokane regained control in the closing minutes, Glacier Peak made one more furious charge.
But in the end, the Grizzlies fell just short.
Glacier Peak missed a potential last-second, game-tying 3-pointer and Mt. Spokane prevailed for a wild 58-55 quarterfinal win Friday in the talent-laden Top of the Peak holiday tournament at Glacier Peak High School.
“We almost made our comeback too quick,” Grizzlies coach Brian Hill said with a laugh. “We took a lead there for a little bit, (but) there was a lot of time left. We had to stay buckled down, but we used a lot of energy to get back into the game, and that last quarter really did become a dogfight.”
The showdown between two of the state’s elite teams couldn’t have started much worse for Glacier Peak.
University of Washington-bound senior guard Jayda Noble and Mt. Spokane (6-2) were firing on all cylinders early on, racing to a 26-7 first-quarter lead while using excellent ball movement to gash the Grizzlies’ defense for a slew of layups. And on the other side of the ball, the Wildcats frustrated Glacier Peak with a mix of defensive looks.
“I thought we were very undisciplined, flat-footed and just soft,” Hill said of his team’s early defense. “I felt like we were soft, and you can’t do that against Mt. Spokane. They’re too good for that.”
The Grizzlies, who returned five of their top six scorers from last season’s 4A fourth-place state team, trimmed the deficit in the opening minute of the second quarter with back-to-back 3-pointers by Malia Smith.
But just as Glacier Peak (4-2) was building some momentum, Noble made a pair of baskets in the span of mere seconds to help Mt. Spokane push the lead back to a comfortable margin. The Wildcats took a 38-19 advantage into halftime.
“One of the things I told them in the locker room was that I don’t know if we’ve ever had a 40-point running clock on us, but right now it’s going to look like it,” Hill said. “So just go out there, play with some pride, turn up our defensive pressure and force them into nothing easy.”
After a forgettable first half, the Grizzlies turned up their halfcourt defensive pressure and opened the third quarter with a 14-1 run to climb back into the contest. Glacier Peak converted several turnovers into transition baskets and Smith capped the onslaught with a 3-pointer, cutting the deficit to 39-33 with just under three minutes remaining in the period.
“Our defensive pressure got really good (in) the second half,” Hill said. “That’s how we typically play defense, and I think it flustered them. But it also got us some good offense going at the same time, because we were playing at a better speed. So I think our defense translated to our offense.”
The Grizzlies opened the fourth quarter on a 9-0 run, which Maya Erling capped with a tough finish at the rim to give Glacier Peak a 47-45 lead with 6:04 to play. It was the Grizzlies’ first lead of the game.
“One of the things we’ve been trying to get the girls ready for is just stepping on the floor ready to play,” Hill said, explaining that he didn’t think his team played with much of an edge in the first half. “… (In) the second half, they felt like they had to go play for something and prove people.”
Glacier Peak’s fourth-quarter lead was short-lived, though, as its offense suddenly went cold during a four-minute stretch without a field goal. Mt. Spokane pulled back in front with six straight free throws, and Noble later hit a step-back 3-pointer to stretch the Wildcats’ lead to 56-48 with 1:43 remaining.
However, the Grizzlies weren’t done just yet.
Glacier Peak’s Aaliyah Collins and Shaylin Sande made a pair of baskets to trim the margin to four points with 27.6 seconds to play.
Sande then knocked the ball free on Mt. Spokane’s ensuing possession, and Collins dribbled downcourt and banked in a 3-pointer to cut the Wildcats’ lead to 56-55 with 11.6 seconds remaining.
Then after Noble hit a pair of free throws to give Mt. Spokane a three-point cushion, the Grizzlies got off a potential game-tying 3-pointer in the closing seconds. But the shot didn’t hit the rim, and the Wildcats held on for a dramatic victory.
Noble scored a game-high 20 points for Mt. Spokane and Kyara Sayers added 11 points.
Erling led Glacier Peak with 15 points, including 13 in the second half. Smith hit three 3-pointers and finished with 13 points, while Collins scored all 10 of her points in the second half.
“Great resilience on my kids, but that’s the standard now,” Hill said. “That’s why we’re doing a tournament like this, so we can play a team like Mt. Spokane (that’s) definitely a state-caliber team, and (to) show us where we’ve gotta be, because we’re not there yet.”
This is the second year in a row that Glacier Peak has hosted a holiday tournament filled with some of the state’s top teams. This year’s field features seven 4A or 3A state qualifiers from last season, including four top-four state finishers.
The loss dropped the Grizzlies to the tournament’s consolation bracket, where they will face defending 4A state champion Eastlake (4-4) on Saturday afternoon. Eastlake fell to unbeaten Kentridge 61-51 in another quarterfinal Friday night.
“I told (my players), ‘Well, whatever you guys did in the second half is where we’ve gotta start against Eastlake,’” Hill said.