“The White River Hornets tried to trash Spartan freshman Alice Russell’s 15th birthday party Friday.But Russell and her teammates blew out the candles as they overcame a 12-point deficit with less than five minutes left, to defeat the fifth-ranked Hornets 58-54 and win the District 3 girls’ basketball championship at Pacific Lutheran University.Fab Rezayat sank 11 of her career-high 18 points – including a game-tying trey with 50 seconds left – in the fourth quarter, while Emily Pierce drained four free throws in the final 17 seconds as the Spartans (now 17-5) earned the No. 1 seed to the state tournament that opens today.This is the best birthday present I could have had, Russell said. I’ve never experienced something like this before.Most of her teammates hadn’t either. This team is really special, said coach Penny Gienger. There was a heaviness in the second game when Alexis (Kimball) went down (with a season-ending knee injury). But everybody picked up it more.Among the chief picker-uppers all season was Pierce, who had a game-high 21 points and pulled down 10 rebounds.We were confident going into the game since White River barely beat Sequim (the Hornets defeated the Wolves three days earlier after being tied 39-39 late in the game), Pierce said. But our spirits were weakened in the fourth quarter when we were down so much. Then Fab turned it around.The game began well for the Spartans. White River missed three three-point attempts in the first minute and Russell opened the scoring moments later with a five-foot jumper. Midway through the quarter Pierce sank a seven-foot jumper and converted the subsequent foul shot for a 5-0 lead.But White River star Trisha Hermanson finally got her team on the board with a trey at 4:20, and a minute later Pierce picked up her second foul. White River took the lead at 6-5, Rezayat hit a pull-up jumper at 2:10 to put the Spartans up 7-6, but a quick field goal and another Hermanson trey put the Hornets up 11-7.A few moments later, Natalie Berry went down hard and had to be helped off the floor with what appeared to be a sprained ankle. That left freshman Lee Maloney as the only backup post player in a situation that could become critical if Pierce picked up any more fouls.Morgan Zajonc’s trey and a Rezayat free throw with two seconds remaining sandwiched a White River trey as the quarter ended with the Hornets ahead 14-11.The teams traded baskets early in the second quarter, but the Hornets went on an 11-2 run to open a 32-19 lead as virtually everything they put up went in and the Spartans committed several turnovers. Christine Schwager’s high arching bank shot and a Russell putback narrowed the margin to 34-23 at the break.Russell opened the third quarter with a six-foot jumper, but two Hornet hoops gave them their largest lead of the evening at 38-25. Bainbridge narrowed the margin to 44-35 on Russell’s 10-footer with 10 seconds remaining.But White River went ahead 49-37 early in the fourth quarter on an inbounds pass under their basket, then began to milk the clock with a slowdown game.When Bainbridge missed two free throws with six minutes remaining, many of the Spartan faithful began thinking about returning the following evening for a winner-to-state, loser-out lower-seed-oh-no-maybe-we-get-Bellevue-in-the-first-game contest with Franklin Pierce.Late rally for winBut the Spartans were in a one-and-one foul situation and with 4:53 showing, Rezayat hit two free throws. Pierce converted both ends of a one-and-one 45 seconds later, and with the Spartans pressing, Rezayat intercepted the inbounds pass and was clobbered. She sank both ends of the one-and-one and suddenly Spartan fans began to sense that, hey, maybe we don’t have to come back to PLU tomorrow night and get home after midnight. Thirty seconds later Rezayat hit a five-foot jumper in the lane and the score was 49-45. A Hornet free throw moments later made it 50-45, but Rezayat drove the lane with 2:48 left to cut the lead to 50-47.Hermanson fouled out 30 seconds later, and Schwager sank both free throws to cut the score to 50-49.A White River putback of a missed shot on the ensuing possession increased their lead to three, and after the Spartans failed to answer, White River put up another shot. It missed, Pierce rebounded, only to momentarily disappear under a swarm of Hornets. Two things happened simultaneously: Pierce was slammed to the floor and the ball dropped into the hoop. Disbelieving Spartan fans, expecting a foul call, watched in dismay at the scoreboard read White River 54, Spartans 49 with 1:38 left. At the Spartan end, Pierce was knocked down again, but this time a foul was called. She got up to sink the two foul shots and again bring her team to within three.Then a huge play: with the clock showing 0:59.9, a Hornet player missed a one-and-one free throw opportunity. The Spartans rushed downcourt, the ball was knocked loose and bounced back to Rezayat about two feet beyond the three-point arc.No one was on me, so I let it fly, she said. I was bummed about my shooting against Franklin Pierce (on Tuesday), so I figured I had to shoot it.Shoot it she did, as it passed cleanly through the net to knot the score at 54-54 as the Spartan side erupted. But there was plenty of time remaining.White River worked the clock down, but missed a shot and Pierce drew a foul as she pulled down the rebound with 17 seconds left. I tried to relax, she said. I knew there was a lot of pressure, but I told myself that it was just a normal free throw, just like in practice.She calmly sank both free throws to give the Spartans the lead.White River called a timeout with 13 seconds showing to set up a play which almost certainly would have involved Hermanson, who could only watch helplessly from the bench. Another Hornet drove the lane but her shot missed. Pierce again pulled down the rebound and was fouled with 5.4 seconds showing.She sank the first one to force the Hornets to go for a trey if she didn’t make the second.But she sank the second to make it a two-possession situation and clinch the win as a last-second Hornet shot caromed high off the backboard. That meant the Spartans, a team that had had trouble converting free throws all season, made their final 14.This win gives us a lot of confidence, Pierce said. Now we know we can play with anyone.Rezayat added, This was probably the best game I’ve ever had. I lost it a little in the fourth quarter, but coach (Gienger) took me out of the game, calmed me down, and told me some good things. I picked up the message.That wasn’t the only coaching coup in the final quarter. Assistant coach Korrie Beemer noticed something on the scoreboard besides the score that favored White River.The foul situation was something like 7-1 in our favor, she said. That meant that we had fouls to give.Though Spartan fans howled in disbelief at what seemed to be minor contact foul calls, Gienger felt the strategy was sound.We got a lot more aggressive, and that turned the momentum around, she said. Pierce and Rezayat combined for 39 points. Russell and Schwager each added eight and Zajonc’s three rounded out Spartan scoring. Russell tacked on three more rejections to her already school-record 37 and had another that was ruled a jump ball. I’m really proud of everyone on our team, Rezayat said. For some reason, the last three minutes seemed really long. I told myself and the other girls that we had plenty of time and I kept my mind-set positive.The fans were just great tonight. I hope we have the same support at state. It’ll be worth their time – I guarantee it. “
Spartans take District 3 championshipA late rally in the last five minutes secured the number one seed for state.
"The White River Hornets tried to trash Spartan freshman Alice Russell's 15th birthday party Friday.But Russell and her teammates blew out the candles as they overcame a 12-point deficit with less than five minutes left, to defeat the fifth-ranked Hornets 58-54 and win the District 3 girls' basketball championship at Pacific Lutheran University.Fab Rezayat sank 11 of her career-high 18 points - including a game-tying trey with 50 seconds left - in the fourth quarter, while Emily Pierce drained four free throws in the final 17 seconds as the Spartans (now 17-5) earned the No. 1 seed to the state tournament that opens today.This is the best birthday present I could have had, Russell said. I've never experienced something like this before. "