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The championship Ilwaco High School girls basketball team celebrated their win with Coach Ned Bittner. Pictured from left to right: Erika Glenn, Ebby McMullen, Arianna Bell, Faith Simonson, Taylor Sheldon, Madeline Jacobson, Makenzie Kaech, Ned Bittner, Eliza Bannister, Chandelle Thomas, Kaytlenn Whelden, Estella Sheldon and Sunny Kemmer.

CHEHALIS – With Ilwaco down by two and 15.1 seconds left, Erika Glenn stole a sideline inbound pass and got the ball to an open Eliza Bannister. Bannister evaluated her options, dribbled left, pulled up and hit a three with 6.8 seconds remaining. It was the winning shot, capping Ilwaco’s comeback from a 10-point deficit with under four minutes to go to beat Central League superpower Napavine 49-48 for the District championship Saturday, Feb. 17.

Napavine started the fourth quarter on a 10-2 run to lead 43-33, but star Melissa Lee fouled out during that stretch. Ebby McMullen’s tough shot from the top of the key started Ilwaco’s comeback. McMullen followed with a diving save of an offensive rebound and a pass to Glenn, who nailed a huge three to cut it to 43-38 with 2:48. McMullen preserved another offensive rebound on the next possession, leading to a wide-open Bannister three on a baseline inbounds play, cutting the lead to two.

After a Mollie Olson three-point play pushed the Tigers’ lead back to five, Glenn buried another three with 1:47 left. Bannister fouled Olson going for a steal, but Olson missed the front end, giving Ilwaco a chance to tie.

Against a Napavine defense that focused heavily on clogging lanes near the basket, Ilwaco had struggled all night to find vulnerabilities. But Glenn and center Madeline Jacobson created just the play they needed. Glenn drove into the paint and, when the defense collapsed on her, made a great pass to Madeline Jacobson, who was open from about 12 feet. Jacobson banked a bank shot with 1:17 remaining.

Olson gave Napavine a 48-46 lead with 28 seconds left, scoring in transition after Makenzie Kaech missed a fast-break shot off a steal. Glenn then turned it over with 15.1 seconds left, and Ilwaco’s chances were again slipping away. But frenetic Ilwaco pressure against the sideline inbounds pass forced two straight Tiger timeouts, as nobody could get open to receive a pass.

Ilwaco didn’t change anything. “All our players did a great job covering who they were guarding,” Glenn said. “The call was the same the whole time.” On the third try, Glenn read the pass (“I knew where she was going to throw it,” Glenn said,) deflected it, dived on the floor and got the ball to Bannister, who added another clutch three-point shot to her resume.

Olson and Lee are Napavine’s primary scoring threats and were co-MVPs in the Central League this season. With Bannister keeping Olson contained, Napavine relied on Lee for their offense in the first half. Lee got away down-court several times for fast-breaks. She got Madeline Jacobson to commit her second foul just 1:19 into the game, sending Jacobson to the bench for the rest of the first quarter. Lee scored 12 first-half points as the Tigers clung to a 19-17 lead.

On defense, Napavine aggressively packed the paint. Sometimes they were able to deny entry passes to Kaech and Jacobson. More often they crowded Ilwaco’s posts, denying them room to get off a good shot or pushing them too far underneath the basket. Interior defenders also provided help to stifle Ilwaco drives, as many possessions ended with Bannister or Glenn forced into out-of-rhythm threes.

Ilwaco faced an uphill battle on offense, but the Fishermen have too many weapons for opponents to take away all of them. McMullen helped keep them in it in the first half. She made a very tough lob pass to give Bannister an easy basket, and banked in a tough three to keep Ilwaco within one after a quarter at 10-9. Glenn calmly passed out of a claustrophobic trap to find McMullen for a jumper to beat the shot clock. McMullen had seven of Ilwaco’s 17 first-half points. She also gave Bannister a break from guarding Olson.

With under five minutes to go in the third quarter, Kaech got a steal, took the ball the other way and drew a fourth foul on Lee, leading the Tigers to put Lee on the bench. On the ensuing inbound play, Kaech took the pass, forced her way to the basket and put Ilwaco ahead 23-22.

Kaech scored nine of Ilwaco’s 14 third-quarter points. She hit the offensive glass hard in the quarter, with five of her points coming on put-backs or trips to the line off her offensive boards.

With the game tied at 31, Ilwaco appeared to have Napavine’s last possession of the third quarter stopped, knocking the ball out of bounds with just two seconds left. Napavine coach Jeremy Landram brought Lee back in to take the last shot of the quarter, and she delivered, pump-faking into a 16-footer from the baseline for a 33-31 lead.

Though Lee went back to the bench to start the fourth quarter, then fouled out immediately upon her return, Napavine started the period on a 10-2 run. On a team led by Olson, Lee and fellow senior Becca Stanza, freshman Sydney Purvis came up big, scoring eight points during the stretch, including two three-pointers.

With Ilwaco fighting for life, McMullen got the offense back on track. With Kaech doubled underneath the basket, McMullen cut into the lane and scored on Kaech’s pass to cut the lead to 40-33. After Purvis’s second three, McMullen knocked down the open jumper just inside the top of the key to cut it to 43-35.

Facing a big deficit in the late minutes, Ilwaco took a risk it had tried to avoid against Napavine: extending its defense. That discombobulated Napavine, forcing rushed possessions that sped the game and thus gave the Fishermen enough possessions for their comeback.

Ilwaco will face La Conner at Regionals at Longview’s Mark Morris High School Saturday at 4:00, where they will be playing for a first-round bye at State. The Lady Fishermen are the number one seed in the Regional and State brackets.

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