EVERETT — The previous three district tournaments followed a similar pattern of heartbreak for the Lake Stevens girls basketball team.
Each of the past three seasons, the Vikings advanced to the district championship game to come within one win of reaching state. But each time, they suffered a blowout loss in the title game. And each time, they followed that with a narrow, season-ending defeat in the second-place game.
In all, it amounted to six consecutive losses in winner-to-state contests.
For Lake Stevens, the seventh time was the charm.
The top-seeded Vikings put an end to their district struggles and punched their ticket to the state regionals with a 55-48 win over second-seeded Glacier Peak in the Class 4A Northwest District Tournament championship game Thursday night at Everett Community College.
“It’s really sweet,” Lake Stevens coach Randy Edens said as his players cut down the net. “We’ve had six chances in three years. We’ve been so close. So (it’s) special — there’s no doubt about it.”
The Vikings (19-3) are headed to state for the first time since their 2013 semifinal trip, which capped a run of seven state appearances in eight seasons.
“You want these kids to experience that,” Edens said of reaching state. “I’ve experienced it as a coach myself, and I know how special it is. So it’s one of those things that means more to me that they get to enjoy it, because they haven’t yet.
“It’s awesome. I’m so proud of them and super excited for them.”
Lake Stevens senior post Kylee Griffen, a Gonzaga University signee, had a game-high 21 points and 12 rebounds. Sophomore guard Raigan Reed added 12 points in another strong performance by the Vikings’ standout duo.
Lake Stevens also received a major boost from Taylor Smith, who scored 13 points. The senior guard buried three 3-pointers, including a back-breaking triple that capped a tiebreaking 10-1 fourth-quarter run and stretched the Vikings’ lead to 50-41 with 1:25 to play.
“I think the biggest thing that’s really helped our team take that next level is we’ve had other contributions,” Edens said. “We’ve really grown. We’ve gotten into a deeper bench, whereas early it was just (Griffen and Reed) all the time.”
Junior guard Alexyss Newman led Glacier Peak with 18 points, including eight in the opening quarter. Freshman Aaliyah Collins and senior Abbie Juozapaitis each added 12 points for the Grizzlies (15-7), who will face fifth-seeded Mariner in Saturday’s second-place game for the district’s final state berth.
“This (was) a heavyweight battle,” Glacier Peak coach Brian Hill said. “Both teams were going after everything, and it was just a great atmosphere. It was playoff, championship basketball. I thought both teams left it all out on the floor.”
Lake Stevens led nearly the entire game, but the margin was within five points for most of the contest until the Vikings pulled away in the final period to beat Glacier Peak for the third time this season.
“Lake Stevens did a great job,” Hill said, “and they got us at the end.”
After Newman rattled in a game-tying 3-pointer that evened the score at 40-40 with 5:45 to play, Reed hit a go-ahead triple to ignite Lake Stevens’ pull-away run.
The Vikings then came up with several defensive stops before Smith swished her dagger 3-pointer, pushing the lead to nine points and sending Lake Stevens’ fans into a frenzy.
“A lot of grit and toughness,” Edens said of his team’s performance. “We had to play a little differently than we like to. Glacier Peak came right at us and, man, we responded.”
Midway through the opening quarter, Smith and Reed sank back-to-back 3-pointers to give the Vikings an early 12-7 lead.
Lake Stevens went scoreless for nearly five minutes later in the first half, but never relinquished its lead. Freshman Samaya Morin made a basket in the closing seconds of the half to give the Vikings a 24-19 advantage at the break.
Juozapaitis hit a pair of 3-pointers early in the third quarter to slice the deficit to 26-25, and added a deep triple in the opening minute of the fourth to once again make it a one-point game.
But Lake Stevens gained separation and put its district-tournament struggles in the past with a decisive fourth-quarter run.
“It’s amazing,” Griffen said. “After the last three years of disappointment, it’s really fun to finally (reach state). … It’s such a relief, and I’m just so happy.”