TACOMA — The Snohomish Panthers haven’t lost this year.
Snohomish, which dropped its first three games of the season, suffered its last defeat to nationally ranked Lynnwood on December 9, 2015. After that game, Snohomish head coach Ken Roberts told his team they could win the next 23 in a row.
And the Panthers are darn close to proving him right.
Snohomish has won 22 straight contests, with its latest a 47-41 victory over Bothell in a 4A state semifinal game at the Tacoma Dome.
The victory sends Snohomish to the state championship game for the fourth time in school history, where win No. 23 would clinch the first title for the Panthers girls program and just the second basketball championship ever for Snohomish.
“Roberts actually told us after those first three games we could go 23-0 the rest of the season. We’re trying to keep that going,” said Panthers senior Madeline Smith. “… It feels unreal. I knew we could always do it, but at the same time you never really think about the actual feeling. We’ve never been there.
“I can’t even fathom this happening. It’s incredible.”
Snohomish (22-3) looked like its ticket to the title game was punched with an 18-point lead early in the fourth quarter. But Bothell (24-2) made three consecutive 3-pointers and got to within seven.
But a pair of free throws by senior Shaylee Harwood and a few more by Madison Pollock helped the Panthers hold off the Cougars and advance to the state championship game for the first time since 2009 where they will face top-ranked Central Valley of Spokane (27-0) at 5 p.m. Saturday at the Tacoma Dome.
“It’s unreal,” said Pollock, who will play at the University of San Diego next season. “We’ve always dreamed about going to the championship and now it’s actually happening. It’s an awesome feeling.”
Added Roberts: “We’re really excited to be where we’re at.”
The Panthers got things rolling after a slow first half for both teams. Bothell and Snohomish both shot below 20 percent in the first half, with the Panthers finishing 5 of 30 (16.7 percent) as they held on to a 14-10 lead.
“Our kids have played really, really hard,” Roberts said. “We really stretched the game out in the second half. We had great shots in the first half — we were 5 for 30 with really good looks. I was disappointed we didn’t have a pretty good lead.”
Things picked up for the Panthers in the second half. Pollock, the hero for Snohomish in its quarterfinal win over Lewis and Clark, was 0 for 12 in the first half, but found a rhythm and finished with 17 points.
“Whoa, that’s bad,” Pollock said with a laugh when told of the stats. “I knew I was a little cold the first half. I just kept trying to focus on my form … and be ready for the second half.”
Smith, who will continue her career at Montana State, also had a strong showing. The 6-foot-1 post scored 17 points and grabbed 12 rebounds.
While the Snohomish offense took a while to get going, the Panthers defense was stout from the start. Snohomish held Bothell, which came into the game averaging 59 points per game, to just 15 through the first three quarters and 41 in the contest after a late barrage of 3-pointers by the Cougars inflated their score.
“They were good defensively,” said Bothell head coach Kent Schaefer. “They’re long and they’re strong and they’re physical.
“That’s the best (defense) we’ve played this year, by far.”
“We have the effort and mentality of coming out to win,” Pollock said. “Defense creates offense so we just tried really hard on defense. The offense would follow.”
The Panthers hope the defense and offense follows them to the state title game, where they will take on the top-ranked Bears.
“(Thursday’s quarterfinals) game, that was a gift from God. Oh my gosh,” Smith said. “Hopefully we can keep it going with a win — and a state championship.”
Added Pollock: “It’s an unreal feeling being in it, but to win it — that would be the ultimate dream come true.”
At Tacoma Dome
Bothell 8 2 5 26 —41
Snohomish 9 5 15 18 —47
Bothell—Sierra Cole 2, Erin Burns 1, Taya Corosdale 19, Melinda Akoto 2, Keyonna Jones 11, Sydney Cowan 0, Brenda Akoto 2, Emily Gibson 0, Chloe Lium 0, Jhasmin Shelton 4, Emmy Grasser 0. Snohomish—Katie Brandvold 3, Maya Duchesne 5, Shaylee Harwood 4, Madison Pollock 17, Madeline Smith 17, Madi Vanslightenhorst 0, Emily Preach 0, Kyra Beckman 0, Ellie Flitsch 1. Records—Bothell 24-2. Snohomish 22-3.