LAKE STEVENS — Wednesday’s Wesco 4A girls basketball games marked the start of the second half of conference play. The first half ended with Glacier Peak on top of the standings, with Lake Stevens and Kamiak right behind.
The Vikings, ranked 10th in the latest Associated Press 4A state poll, entered their critical Wednesday contest against the Knights on an eight-game winning streak. Lake Stevens was able to push its streak to nine with a 65-61 win, and in doing so opened up a two-game lead for second place in the conference.
“You want to have as many close games as you can this time of the year, because it’s going to be that way in the playoffs,” said Vikings coach Randy Edens. “It will be good to know that we’ve done it before in this kind of environment. Kamiak is a good team, and I’ve expected them to be right there with us (in the standings). They made some good responses to what we did to them (in a 51-42 Lake Stevens win Jan. 9), but we answered back. I expect to see them down the road.”
Lake Stevens (12-2 overall, 7-1 Wesco 4A) took an early lead thanks to Marissa Walton’s 12 first-quarter points. Even though the Vikings’ leading scorer, Kylee Griffen, didn’t play for most of the first half due to foul trouble, they led 30-28 at halftime.
Lake Stevens pushed its advantage to 12 points at the end of the third quarter as Griffen scored 12 points in the period.
“I wanted to completely forget what happened in the first half and focus on (what I had to do) in the second half,” said Griffen, who finished with 18 points, all in the second half. “I wanted to make up for lost time and help the team out.”
But Kamiak (8-6, 5-3) didn’t give up, and slowly began to chip away at the Vikings’ lead. Knights guard Sarah Payne scored 11 straight points to start the fourth quarter, and Kamiak took a 56-54 lead with four minutes remaining in the game.
Payne, the Knights’ leading scorer entering the contest, finished with 29 points, more than double her season average of 12.3.
“She can shoot,” said Kamiak coach Brian Norman. “She’s an offensive player. She attacks the basket well and spots up well. When she’s hitting 3s, she’s tough to guard. She just had one of those nights.”
But Lake Stevens responded, scoring six straight points to take a 60-56 lead with three minutes to go. A Payne 3-pointer cut the Vikings’ lead to one with 1 minute, 18 seconds remaining in the game, but the Knights weren’t able to score again.
“We were able to make plays late, and make some free throws,” Edens said. “That’s good to see in a tight game, because in the playoffs we’ll have confidence to step up to the line and make shots. This was just a good basketball game. It was fun. We didn’t put them away, they hit some big 3s and the pressure was on us, but I like how we responded.”
Lake Stevens’ streak will be put to the test Saturday when it plays Glacier Peak. The Vikings haven’t lost since falling to the Grizzlies 80-60 on Dec. 14.
“We’ve definitely been emphasizing going hard all the time, because we’ve had some slow starts that have come back to bite us,” Griffen said. “We feel good about the way we’re playing. We’ve had a lot of growth, and that’s making us more confident. Now we’re seeing everyone contribute every single game. No matter who we put in, there’s no drop-off.”
Kamiak knows it missed a big opportunity Wednesday, but Norman is optimistic about his team’s chances going forward.
“We’re playing with good energy, and we’re shooting well,” he said. “Our defense has been tough for how small we are — we’re playing good team defense. It would be nice to get a bye in districts, but right now we’re not thinking about that because we’ve got tough games coming up.”