LAKE STEVENS — More than a decade after setting the single-season assists record for Lake Stevens girls basketball, Leah Tate returned to her alma mater and provided another lift for the Vikings.
Tate, who was diagnosed with stage-four brain cancer last spring, was Lake Stevens’ honorary captain for the team’s Coaches vs. Cancer game Tuesday night.
In addition to being recognized prior to the game and sitting on the team’s bench during the contest, the 2008 graduate and former point guard shared some inspirational words with the Vikings at halftime.
“She shared some key things with us about (how basketball) is really about playing as a team,” Lake Stevens freshman Cori Wilcox said. “We took that to heart, and we came out in the second half and played as a team.”
Wilcox and Raigan Reed each scored 17 points and the Vikings dominated the second half to pull away for a 62-39 win over Jackson in a key Wesco 4A clash on an emotional night at Lake Stevens High School.
“It was really special,” Wilcox said of having Tate on the bench and in their presence. “For somebody with her medical needs, it was unbelievable.”
“She and her family have gone through so much,” Vikings coach Randy Edens said. “It was really, really special to have her here tonight.”
With the victory, Lake Stevens (8-6 overall, 7-1 Wesco 4A) earned a regular-season sweep of Jackson and stayed one game behind first-place Glacier Peak in the conference title race. The Vikings, who fell to Glacier Peak last month, get another shot at the Grizzlies next Tuesday.
The win also distanced Lake Stevens from third-place Jackson (10-4, 5-3), giving the Vikings a two-game lead and the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Timberwolves. That’s significant because the top two Wesco 4A teams receive first-round byes in the Class 4A Wes-King Bi-District Tournament and avoid the loser-out play-in round.
“That’s always been the goal — try to be in those top two spots,” Edens said.
Lake Stevens has won 11 consecutive games against Jackson, with those victories coming by an average margin of 17.1 points. The Timberwolves haven’t beaten the Vikings since January 2014.
DEFENSE RULES THE REMATCH
Tuesday’s rematch between Lake Stevens and Jackson was nothing like last month’s high-scoring encounter, which the Vikings won 72-63 despite 32 points from Timberwolves star Olivia Skibiel.
The second meeting was a defensive struggle for much of the night, with the teams combining for just three points in the game’s first five minutes.
Lake Stevens held Jackson more than 15 points below its season average and limited Skibiel to just seven points. The North Dakota State University-bound senior was playing with extensive tape on the wrist of her right shooting hand.
“She had a little tweak in it,” Timberwolves coach Corey Gibb said. “She hasn’t been able to shoot the last week or so, so she was a little hindered by that.”
LAKE STEVENS’ DOMINANT SECOND HALF
Jackson trailed just 24-22 at halftime and cut the deficit to 34-30 late in the third quarter on a 3-pointer by Megan Mattison. But the Vikings immediately responded, with Reed sinking a running floater and assisting Emma Lund for a bucket to push their lead to eight points entering the final period.
Then after a Jackson basket in the opening minute of the fourth quarter, Lake Stevens rattled off 10 straight points to break open the game. Reed converted a transition layup, Kaylie Bracy hit a 3-pointer and Wilcox made a pair of baskets — the latter coming on a putback that stretched the Vikings’ lead to 48-32 with five minutes to play.
Wilcox scored 16 of her 17 points in the second half, including 11 in the fourth quarter.
“(She) got some big-time rebounds and putbacks,” Edens said of the 6-foot-2 forward. “She was a big-time difference.”
Lake Stevens outscored Jackson by a 38-17 margin in the second half.
“I was really impressed with our defensive focus there in the second half,” Edens said. “The defense was where it was at tonight, for sure.”
Mackendra Konig, a freshman, finished with a team-high nine points for the Timberwolves.
“We struggled offensively in the second half,” Gibb said. “We got good looks at the rim; we just couldn’t finish. It was intense both ways. We needed to get some stops, and we didn’t.”