By AARON MEAD
ILWACO — The Ilwaco girls beat Wahkiakum 68-50 in a marquee matchup Saturday, avenging last year’s season-ending loss at regionals. The Lady Fishermen played stifling defense in the fourth quarter and broke open a one-point game.
Each team’s superstar had a monster game: Lady Mule point guard Peyton Souvenir scored 22 of her 26 in the first half, and Ilwaco power forward Makenzie Kaech went 8 of 14 with 18 points, 14 rebounds and five assists and went out to the perimeter to guard Souvenir in the fourth quarter, holding her scoreless.
After early scoring inside from Kaech and Madeline Jacobson, Hannah Ellsworth hit a three-pointer for a 10-4 lead and got into the lane for a basket and a 12-6 lead early in the first. Souvenir’s second three-pointer tied it at 12, giving her nine of Wahkiakum’s first twelve points. Kaech came out to double-team Souvenir and got a steal and score for a 16-12 lead, and Ilwaco led 20-12 after one.
Ellsworth opened the game guarding Souvenir. “She’s an amazing player,” Ellsworth said. “She has that wicked crossover.” Ellsworth’s goal: “Once she gets rid of it, don’t let her get it back.” Ellsworth chased Souvenir around and guarded her tightly. Despite the tough defense, Souvenir hit two contested three-pointers in the period, and got around Ellsworth and Kaech for a beautiful layup.
The rest of the Mules weren’t able to get going early; Ellsworth contained Souvenir’s penetration enough to prevent her creating too many opportunities. Ellsworth usually funneled her to the middle, and when she did start to get by her, Jacobson anticipated well and arrived quickly on help defense.
Early in the second quarter Souvenir got by Ellsworth and made a shot over Jacobson, then hit a midrange shot over both Ellsworth and Jacobson. A long jumper from Ellsworth gave Ilwaco a 24-15 lead. The Lady Fishermen led 28-19, but Wahkiakum closed the half on a 13-3 run, forcing several turnovers during the span, with Souvenir getting a couple of transition layups off her own steals.
Early in the third Ellsworth got a steal from Souvenir and made two three-pointers for a 37-34 lead, then drew a foul attacking the basket and hit a free throw for a 40-36 lead. The Lady Mules led 42-40 with possession when Kaech ran into the back court, stole the ball, saved it to herself and glided to the basket to draw the foul; she missed both free throws but Jacobson grabbed the rebound and put it back for a 42-42 tie. Ilwaco clung to a 45-44 lead after three.
In the fourth quarter Kaech showed her incredible versatility, scoring ten points with two assists while holding the lightning-fast point guard Souvenir scoreless on the other end. The Lady Fishermen went with a 1-2-2 defense and played a brilliant period. Early in the fourth Jacobson came out to the top of the key on defense to help, and got back to the basket in time to block a shot.
Kaech grabbed a defensive rebound and took it all the way for a layup and 52-44 lead. Shortly afterward she positioned herself perfectly in the backcourt and got her arms up to force a high pass that sailed out of bounds, then brought the ball up and found McMillan in advantageous position along the baseline, where McMillan drove for a layup and 55-46 lead.
The Lady Fishermen then got creative, with the center Jacobson handling the ball on the perimeter; she found point guard Eliza Bannister open under the basket for a score and 58-48 lead. Bannister then forced a difficult pass, which Kaech stole and found Ellsworth for a 60-48 lead with about two minutes to go. The Lady Fishermen won the fourth period 23-6.
Wahkiakum eliminated Ilwaco in the first round of regionals last year, 53-38, and went to the state championship. They lost a lot of players from that team but came in to Saturday’s game at 6-1, outscoring opponents 57-33 on average. Ilwaco improves to 7-2.
The Fishermen proved their depth. Scoring was very balanced as Kaech and Ellsworth led with 18, Jacobson had 17 with ten rebounds, and McMillan scored 11 on five of nine shooting with four assists. Ilwaco was able to turn to its bench for key minutes in a huge game that was close most of the way, with Elizabeth Kulm, Reece Pierson and Abigail Bentley all coming in for stretches.
“I told the team after the game, ‘Even if you only played a few minutes, you contributed in an important way to this victory,’” said Coach Ned Bittner. “It’s important to have players we can rely on when someone is in foul trouble or needs a rest.”