One mighty River(side) to cross

The Bainbridge girls’ basketball team poses after practice Monday. (Front row, L-R) Kirsten Michael, Anna Wood, Emily Farrar, Brittany Gray, Jesse Vincent. (Middle row, L-R) Rebecca Sharar, Kate McKenzie, Grace Campbell, Mallory Farrar, Kas Tortua, Claire Thomas. (Back row) Micki Johns. The Spartans open the 3A state tournament Wednesday at 9 a.m. against top-ranked Auburn Riverside.  - Brad Camp/Staff Photo
The Bainbridge girls’ basketball team poses after practice Monday. (Front row, L-R) Kirsten Michael, Anna Wood, Emily Farrar, Brittany Gray, Jesse Vincent. (Middle row, L-R) Rebecca Sharar, Kate McKenzie, Grace Campbell, Mallory Farrar, Kas Tortua, Claire Thomas. (Back row) Micki Johns. The Spartans open the 3A state tournament Wednesday at 9 a.m. against top-ranked Auburn Riverside.
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff Photo

Though they have a tough road ahead of them, Bainbridge has some history on its side.

If the Bainbridge girls’ basketball team needs any motivation that they can overcome any obstacle, they can look back at all the big wins they notched over the season.

Or, they can look no further than their bench and get a glimpse of the past.

“I haven’t sat down and talked too much about it, but it does come up,” said assistant coach Nicole Hebner, a reserve on the 1999 team that came home with a state title.

“We’ll talk about it and how wonderful and amazing that experience was,” she continued. “It’s something that you never, ever forget.”

So with the fourth and final seed out of District 2 (thanks to a 56-34 loss to Lakeside on Saturday) to the 3A state girls’ basketball tournament, the Spartans are set on continuing their strong late season run toward a possible championship.

But in order to do just that, they’ve got to get past a tough top-half of the bracket, with their first game against the top ranked and defending champions in Auburn Riverside.

The two teams square off in what is dubbed the ‘Egg McMuffin’ game at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the Bank of America Arena on the University of Washington campus.

The Ravens (21-3) have not lost a game in state all season, with their only losses coming against nationally ranked teams.

Since then, they’ve won 17 in a row, blowing out several opponents by 30 points or more.

They’ve averaged 77.6 points per game on the strength of senior guard and WSU recruit Katie Grad, who’s second in scoring in 3A with 21.7 points a game.

Win or lose, they’ll have to take on either second ranked Lakes or fifth ranked Meadowdale, who play each other in the next game after Bainbridge.

But head coach Penny Gienger and senior co-captain Emily Farrar said they’re fine with starting off the tournament against a difficult opponent.

“That’s the draw we got, so we’ll give it our best shot,” she said.

Gienger said they’ll take an early ferry over rather than stay in Seattle the night before.

“I’m really into the routine of sleeping in our own beds and staying with our routine,” she said. “I’m just a very routine person and I like to keep things as normal as possible.

“The bracket is painful, but we’re going to go in and see what we can do.”

The Spartans have done all they can to get to this point, defeating several ranked teams and prevailing in some tough do-or-die contests.

The season started off with wins in their first four games against Olympic, Ingraham, Nathan Hale and West Seattle – all by double-digit wins.

But the Spartans couldn’t get past Lakeside on the road, suffering their first loss of the season in a close overtime game.

The next day, the Spartans traveled to Newport and took part in the highest scoring game in school history, with both teams combining for 157 points.

Brittany Gray led the way with 28 points and 12 rebounds as the Spartans won by five.

But after another double-digit win over Bishop Blanchet, Bainbridge lost the next three of their four games.

Two of those were blowout losses on the road to Seattle Prep and the Mavericks, with the third being a close overtime loss to Holy Names.

With their only win in that span a blowout – albeit a sloppy – win against Eastside Catholic, the team needed something to get them going.

Gienger said it was simply a matter of getting it.

“I came in from last year a little upset – I didn’t feel I did a very good job and didn’t reach my kids,” she said.

“(But) a month and a half ago, these kids started to buy into what we were trying to do and they had some success and it was like, ‘Wow,’” Gienger continued. “Now it’s become really fun. They’ve started listening and trying to figure out ‘hey, we can be pretty good,’ because we were competing with everybody.”

The spark started, Bainbridge reeled off seven straight wins, including a blowout win against Chief Sealth and two huge wins against then-ranked teams – one against the Lions in double overtime and a 15-point win against the Panthers, both at home.

The Spartans continued their run in the playoffs by taking out the Braves and Rainier Beach in the Metro playoffs, then taking out the Knights again -- thanks to a big game from Anna Wood – and using a 13-0 second quarter run to defeat the Lions.

Though they couldn’t get past Prep again, Bainbridge rebounded to handily defeat the Raiders and earn a state berth, their first since 2004.

While this trip will be the first for everyone on the team save for Gienger and Hebner, Farrar feels the team can handle anything.

“This is the most well-rounded, I think, of any group I’ve played with,” Farrar, a four-year member of the varsity said. “On paper, other groups have been more talented, but when we come together, we play with each other so well and we rely on each other.

“We have Brittany, and she’s phenomenal, but we don’t just have Brittany,” Farrar continued. “We all rely on each other and do our part.

“This is the hardest-working team I’ve been on in my four years on the team.”

But to get the job done at state, junior post Anna Wood said they’ll have to deal with the pressure when it comes.

“When we get into a situation that’s not our strength – like being pressed or being trapped – (we need to) just not panic, calm down and take it slow,” she said. “Make sure all our passes are accurate and not let the high pressure they’re trying to enforce on us make us hectic and do everything really quick.”

But through all the tough games and close games this season, Gienger said she’s had a lot of fun watching the team grow from tryouts to now.

“It’s been a pretty fun year,” she said. “Watching this group – I had no idea they’d do this well... I’m really proud of them.”

Gienger also felt they have some history on their side, referring to her first year coaching at Bainbridge when the team upset then top-ranked Rainier Beach in the opening game of the 1990 state tournament.

And Hebner and former teammate Liz McCloskey, who was a captain on that team that took down an undefeated Meadowdale team for the title, said they feel this team can make some noise at state.

“These kids show up to play,” Hebner said. “We’ve seen it this season: when these kids show up to play, they can beat anybody. They’ve done some pretty phenomenal things.

“If this group plays together – between Anna and Brittany, the combination of the two, they could be unstoppable,” McCloskey said.

“If they play their game, they can’t be beat.”

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