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Spartans stumble, can't finish off Rainier Beach

Momentum in high school basketball can change as quickly as Pacific

Northwest weather.

And the Bainbridge Spartan girls found themselves on the wrong side of a

fourth-quarter squall Thursday night in the state 3A tournament

quarterfinal matchup with Rainier Beach, falling 51-48 at the Tacoma

Dome.

The defeat pushed Bainbridge into a consolation bracket contest against

Ellensburg Friday afternoon. If victorious in that game, Bainbridge

plays for fourth place in the state today at 1:30 p.m.

Rainier Beach continued with a game against Clarkston yesterday in the semi-final action.

In Thursday night's thriller, with almost four minutes to go in the

game, the Vikings broke a 48-48 deadlock when Jemeika Newson converted

on a field goal-free throw three-point play to give Beach a 51-48 lead.

Nary a point was scored for the rest of the game.

Ironically, it was just a quarter earlier, with 4:29 left in the third,

that a frustrated Rainier Beach coach Kireen Ellis called for a timeout

as Bainbridge had burst out to a 38-25 lead. The timeout must have

gotten the attention of the Viking players, as Rainier Beach scored an

unanswered 10 points in less than three minutes to cut the Spartan lead

to just three at 38-35.

Bainbridge held a tenuous 40-38 lead going into the final quarter.

Disaster hit the Spartans in the beginning of the quarter as senior

Morgan Zajonc fouled out with about seven minutes to play. Though Zajonc

provided spirited encouragement from the bench, the Spartans needed her

shot and senior leadership on the hardwood.

The game was all about back-and-forth. The Sparts jumped out to an early

4-0 lead from the tipoff with buckets by Allie Picha and Haley Wiggins.

Beach responded with an 11-1 roll to hold a 11-5 lead at the end of the

first period.

Bainbridge whittled at the Viking lead in the second quarter, with Alice

Russell pushing the Sparts on top with just over a minute to play in the

half, 22-20, with two of her six points for the stanza.

An aggressive, smothering defense, led by the Spartan inside corps of

Russell, Picha and Zajonc, resulted in countless blocked shots

throughout the half. In fact, Russell set a tournament record with nine

blocks in the game. Unfortunately, it was this gutsy defense that would

hurt Bainbridge in the second half.

The Spartans ended up outscoring Rainier Beach 21-10 in the second

quarter to take a 26-21 lead into the lockerroom at the half. Even the

crowd, however, seemed to sense it was way too early to start any

celebration.

And, unfortunately for Bainbridge, the Vikings were poised to pull out

that lightning-fast thunderstorm in the second half.

The atmosphere was familiar for Bainbridge coach Penny Gienger as the

Spartans took the floor against the Vikings. In four previous meetings

between the two schools at the state tournament over the years, the

Spartans had always managed to come out on top - including two victories

with Gienger at the helm.

In fact, Gienger's first Washington State basketball tournament

experience as a coach was the 1990 first-round contest against the

Vikings. In one of the more thrilling comebacks in Spartan playoff

history, Bainbridge came from 20 points down early in the second half to

defeat Rainier Beach 46-40.

While none of the current Spartan or Viking players were even in school

when that game was played, much of the same intensity was played out on

the Dome court Thursday night. And this time, the tide of momentum swung

around to the Beach.

In the contest, Bainbridge was led in scoring by Russell and Picha with

15 points each, Haley Wiggins had 7, Tiana Gallagher 6, and Zajonc 5.

Opening round victory

To get to the quarterfinals, the Spartan girls outplayed the River Ridge

Hawks Wednesday night, 57-27, to settle the nerves and head home for the

evening with a victory in the first round of the State AAA basketball

tournament at the Tacoma Dome.

The defensive tenacity of the Spartans was just too much for the Hawks,

as Bainbridge gobbled up nine steals in the first half alone, converting

on 18 turnover points. The Spartans held a 35-18 lead at the half fueled

by 8 points from senior Russell and 7 by sophomore Picha.

Foul trouble for Bainbridge in the second half, along with some hot

three-point shooting in the waning minutes of play by the Hawks, allowed

the Spartan lead to dwindle as the seconds ticked away. Spartan senior

ball-hawking guard Wiggins fouled out just as the final period got

underway, taking away a big part of the Bainbridge defense on top.

The Hawks managed to cut the Bainbridge lead to just eight points,

53-45, with 36 seconds to play, but it was a case of too little, too

late.

"They are a very good team," River Ridge coach Bill Wirtzberger said of

the Spartans after the game. "We could not get our rotation going, and

they took advantage."

Russell led Bainbridge with 18 points in the win, while Picha

demonstrated an impressive show of hustle, picking up 17 points. Wiggins

added 10.

The win put Bainbridge into the quarterfinal matchup against league

rival Rainier Beach, Thursday.The Spartans defeated the Vikings once

during the regular season, but the Vikings won the SeaKing District

matchup. In the Rainier Beach state opener, the Vikings pounded Tyee

57-38 - playing much of the second half with the second string on the

court.

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