A buzzer-beating bucket from Quin Mikel to end the third quarter, two key fourth quarter field goals from Kali Rambo and a clutch-free throw late in the game from Jillian Bieker.
There was no shortage of second-half heroics for the Elma High School girls basketball team during its loser-out regional game against Deer Park. And the Eagles needed every one of them.
Jalyn Sackrider scored 13 points, Rambo added 12 and the No. 12 Eagles secured their second straight trip to the Class 1A state tournament with a thrilling 39-38 win over the No. 13 Stags at Tumwater High School on February 29.
The Eagles (17-6) will next play No. 4 Freeman (20-3) in a loser-out game on March 4 at the Yakima SunDome. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. Freeman, champions of the 1A Northeast League, saw its 15-game winning streak end in a 55-32 loss to No. 5 La Salle in the regional round.
The winner will advance to face No. 3 Warden (23-1) in the quarterfinals.
“It feels amazing,” said Rambo about her team heading back to the state tournament. “I can’t describe the feeling. This year is my senior year and it feels like it’s just meant to be. Last year was such a great feeling, but this year feels even more powerful because I’ve been playing with them since my fifth grade year.”
Rambo’s playing time was limited in the second half after she picked up her fourth foul in the third quarter. If that wasn’t enough, the Eagles, who led 24-18 at the half, also were without fellow starter Mikel for much of the third quarter after the senior exited the game with a back injury.
Both came up with huge plays upon their returns to the court.
Mikel was up first, rushing the ball up court before hitting a shot as time expired from the top of the key to pull Elma within a point at 31-30 at the end of the third quarter.
“Quin hit that runner and it just really changed the momentum going into the fourth,” said Elma coach Lisa Johnson. “Everyone was into it again. We came out into the fourth believing we were going to win. We just got into foul trouble early in the game between Kali and Quin. With our short bench, we just can’t have two of our high scorers sitting out.”
Up next was Rambo, the Eagles’ point guard, who reentered the contest in the fourth quarter and proceeded to hit two shots late in the game, the second of which gave Elma a 38-36 lead with 2 minutes, 16 seconds to play.
Deer Park, however, would find the equalizer on its next possession before Rambo was whistled for her fifth foul with 94 seconds to play, forcing the senior into the role of spectator the rest of the way.
“I want to be out there with my team every second, so I was mad when I had to leave,” Rambo said. “It was so great to see my team come back and win. They had to pick it up and that’s exactly what they did.”
Moments after Rambo’s exit, Bieker came up with the defensive play of the game, stealing the ball near midcourt and aggressively driving to the basket where she was fouled. Bieker hit one free throw, giving the Eagles the lead for good at 39-38.
“This season has been awesome. These players lay it out for each other every time they step out onto the hardwood. They really do. That’s just how they play. They’re go, go, go every play,” Johnson said. “Last week at practice we were really clicking. We didn’t play as well as we can tonight, but I hope going into state we can tweak a few things and come in with a little more confidence.”
Elma will be joined in the Yakima SunDome by 1A Evergreen League rival Montesano. The No. 14 Bulldogs advanced to the state tournament for the first time since 2017 following a 65-40 thumping of No. 11 Seattle Academy in the regional round.
Senior Zoe Hutchings scored a game-high 26 points, while Paige Lisherness added 13 for the Bulldogs, who also received eight points from Jaiden King and six from Zoee Lisherness.
Montesano (16-9) will play No. 8 Kings (18-8) in the first round at 3:45 p.m. with the winner squaring off against No. 5 La Salle in the quarterfinals. The Knights are coming off a 61-45 loss to No. 3 Warden at regionals.
The Bulldogs and Kings met during the regular season with the Knights winning 63-54 at the Cloud 9 Christmas Classic tournament on December 27.