SPOKANE — The Wahkiakum Mules refused to lose. They weren’t going out on a defeat.
The Mules darted to a 34-20 halftime lead, eventually stretched the advantage to 16 before staving off a La Conner rally in a 54-43 victory in the 2B State Tournament on Saturday at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena. It secures Wahkiakum a third-place trophy, their fifth piece of hardware in five years.
“It’s awesome. The kids have bought in and that’s what it takes,” coach Rob Garrett said. “You have to have kids that really buy in to the program mentality. The biggest thing for our girls is we just put in a lot more time than most other teams.
“It takes a lot of time, a lot of commitment. And that’s why it’s so tough to lose this group. They not only did that themselves, they made sure everyone else did the same things.”
Macie Elliott concluded her career with 22 points and seven rebounds. Charlie Ashe added nine points and Ellie Leitz added nine points and nine rebounds.
That trio was the driving force behind the squad this season. They encouraged girls to get to every open gym, to watch film and to tour the region to get a look at what to improve on.
And it never felt like a chore. Not once.
“We lived in the gym. We are the definition of gym rats,” Elliott said. “Our parents would text us like, ‘Where are you?’ We’re not coming home! Let us do us.”
Leitz chimed in: “And it was easy because we loved it.”
The Mules (25-2) fell short of their title dreams with a 60-54 defeat to Liberty (Spangle) on Friday. Saturday was all about ending things the right way. A good start helped solidify that.
“We knew we weren’t ending on a loss,” Leitz said. “That wasn’t going to happen to us.”
But the Mules’ offense went cold once again in the second half. They were just 4 of 22 (18.2 percent) from the field in the final 16 minutes. There was grit, though, and that was enough to keep the Braves at bay. The closest La Conner got was within five before a 16-of-22 effort from the free-throw line sealed things.
Jansi Merz, a soon-to-be star, scored nine points and pulled in 10 rebounds.
Wahkiakum was one of the most dominant teams in the state this season. They outscored opponents by an average of 34 points per game, won league and district titles and were an exciting team to watch.
“A lot of the (success) comes from our coach,” Elliott said. “We have the best coach in the state, hands down.”
That will all sit by the wayside in five years when the Mules look back on this. This was about each other and the thousands of hours spent by one another from first grade on.
“It’s really, really sad right now, but at least we got to go out on a win together,” said Leitz, choking back tears as she leaned on her even tearier-eyed co-captain.
Elliott added: “The friendships we have on this team. We just love each other so much.”