MILL CREEK — After recently securing its first winning season in more than two decades, the Mariner girls basketball team opened postseason play by achieving yet another milestone.
Hannah Hezekiah scored 29 points as the fifth-seeded Marauders continued their breakthrough season, storming to a big first-quarter lead and cruising past fourth-seeded Jackson for a landmark 56-38 victory Thursday night in a first-round Class 4A Northwest District tournament game at Jackson High School.
It was the first postseason win in approximately two decades for Mariner’s long-struggling girls basketball program, coach Corey Gibb said.
“I’m just really proud of the girls,” said Gibb, who’s in his 11th season at the helm. “I can hardly even describe it. It’s crazy. I couldn’t be prouder of the girls, and the time and effort they’ve put into the program.”
Likely none of the Marauders’ current players were born when the program last experienced a playoff triumph.
“It’s been a really long time,” Gibb said.
Between 2004 and 2014, Mariner never won more than six games in a season and suffered through a pair of winless campaigns in 2009-10 and 2012-13.
But players such as Hezekiah helped change the program’s trajectory.
After four wins in 2014-15 and eight wins each of the past two years, the Marauders (13-8) turned the page on two decades of futility with this season’s breakthrough.
“It’s just been a complete turnaround,” Hezekiah said. “It feels good to see where we’ve come in four years. It’s been really nice to go through all of it and now be here — in the playoffs and winning. It’s been a big turnaround.”
Hezekiah, a standout senior guard, hit five 3-pointers Thursday and matched her season high in points. She complemented her pinpoint outside shooting with a pair of tough finishes at the basket, including a crafty reverse lay-in during Mariner’s 16-2 game-opening run. It was the seventh time this season that she’s scored 20 points or more.
“It’s nice to have an option like that who can score — that when we need a basket, she can get you one,” Gibb said. “She’s become a very, very smart player.”
Freshman phenom Taliyah Clark added 17 points for the Marauders, who will face top-seeded Lake Stevens in Saturday’s district semifinals. Jackson (11-10) will play an elimination game next Tuesday against the loser of Saturday’s other semifinal between Glacier Peak and Monroe.
Thursday marked the second time in nine days that Mariner beat Jackson while holding the Timberwolves to 41 points or less.
Those two defensive performances were a striking contrast from the teams’ first meeting this season, when Jackson scored 48 first-half points en route to a 71-54 win over the Marauders on Jan. 5.
The difference in the two recent matchups was Mariner’s ability to shut down Jackson juniors Olivia Skibiel and Megan Mattison, who combine for approximately 30 points per game.
“I think the first game we weren’t really paying attention to who their shooters were,” Hezekiah said. “And now that we’ve got (that) down, we’ve dominated them on defense.”
Hezekiah limited Skibiel to 12 points Thursday, including just two points through the first three quarters. Mariner senior Denisa Grebovic kept Mattison in check, holding her to eight points.
“I took my two best defenders, stuck them on (Skibiel and Grebovic) and said, ‘They’re yours. Don’t let your player beat you,’” Gibb said. “And I think both of them stepped up to the challenge.”
The Marauders held Jackson to just two points in the game’s first seven minutes, forcing the Timberwolves into numerous turnovers while racing to a 16-2 first-quarter lead.
“We came out with a lot of energy,” Hezekiah said. “We were focused.”
Mattison hit a pair of 3-pointers early in the second quarter, trimming the deficit to 16-10 during a six-minute Mariner scoring drought.
But Hezekiah pushed the lead back to double digits, sinking a pair of 3-pointers to give the Marauders a 24-14 halftime advantage. Hezekiah then scored nine of Mariner’s 11 points in the third quarter to help put the game out of reach.
“She controlled the game,” Gibb said. “Hannah did a great job on both ends of the floor.”