SEATTLE — The ball bounced into the air off the back rim, and then hit the iron again before falling toward the floor.
West Seattle players breathed a sigh of relief, while several Meadowdale players put their hands on their knees and bent down in heartbreak.
After a sensational second-half comeback, the underdog Mavericks came oh-so-close to taking their Cinderella run all the way to the Tacoma Dome.
The 16th-seeded Meadowdale girls basketball team’s last-second 3-pointer bounced twice off the rim before falling out, and ninth-seeded West Seattle advanced to next week’s Hardwood Classic with a 41-40 win in a Class 3A loser-out state regional Friday night at Garfield High School.
“I’m extremely proud,” said first-year Mavericks coach Arie Mahler, whose team stormed back from a double-digit deficit with a 16-0 third-quarter run. “They didn’t give up, and they could’ve. To me, it shows the heart that they have, the desire to get better and the desire not to settle.
“We made it further than I think we expected to this year, certainly surprised a lot of people and we weren’t going to settle. They wanted to go to the Dome, and (we were just) two points shy.”
Meadowdale (15-9) was coming off an improbable run to state as the No. 8 seed in its district tournament. The Mavericks won three district elimination games to earn their first state berth since 2009, punching their ticket with a dramatic 30-28 upset of No. 2 seed Shorecrest.
Defense was the key to Meadowdale’s postseason run, and it was what kept the Mavericks in Friday’s state regional.
Meadowdale struggled mightily on offense in the first half, scoring only one point in the opening quarter and just four points in the first 12 minutes. But despite their slew of turnovers and missed shots, the Mavericks trailed just 20-10 at halftime.
“We just told them, ‘Don’t worry about the score. Focus on playing defense, and that will get you back in this game,’” Mahler said. “And they went out and did it. They played defense, and we finally got some shots to go down.”
Trailing 24-10 early in the third quarter, Meadowdale rattled off a stunning 16-0 run to surge in front.
The Mavericks’ run began with a string of three 3-pointers — two from Kaisha Stark and another from Alicia Morrison — that sliced West Seattle’s lead to 24-19.
Then after a transition layup by Lilly Williams, 6-foot sophomore post Fatoumata Jaiteh converted a three-point play to tie the game with three minutes left in the third quarter. Soon after, Jaiteh fought through contact for another basket to give Meadowdale a 26-24 edge and its first lead of the game.
Jaiteh continued her strong play in the fourth quarter, dominating inside while showcasing a low-post spin move that West Seattle (18-5) struggled to defend.
Jaiteh scored all of her team-high 13 points in the second half, including a left-handed mini-hook shot that stretched the Mavericks’ lead to 38-33 with 3:10 to play.
West Seattle answered with a 3-pointer and a basket to tie the game at 38, and later evened the score at 40 on a spinning layup by Jasmine Gayles with 1:20 to play.
Then after the teams traded empty possessions, Gayles came up with a steal and was fouled on a layup attempt with 19.5 seconds remaining. The senior guard hit her second free throw to give the Wildcats a 41-40 lead.
On the ensuing Meadowdale possession, a jump ball gave the Mavericks an inbound situation underneath the basket. Meadowdale got a semi-contested look at a potential game-winning 3-pointer, but the ball clanked twice off the rim and West Seattle grabbed the rebound to run out the clock.
Grace Sarver, a senior guard, scored West Seattle’s first eight points and finished with a team-high 17. Kelsey Lenzie added 10 points for the Wildcats, who were held more than 21 points below their season scoring average.
Morrison scored 11 points for the Mavericks, whose first winning season since 2012-13 nearly took them all the way to the Hardwood Classic.
“It was a tough locker room (after the game), but they’re proud,” Mahler said. “I think we put Meadowdale basketball on the map. I told them all that they should walk out of this gym with their head held high. And my seniors, they get to leave a legacy, and nobody can take that away from them.”