SPOKANE — Wahkiakum girls’ basketball coach Rob Garrett was ecstatic. And he had no clue what his team would pull off by the end of a 2B State Tournament fourth-place bout on Saturday at the Spokane Arena.
For a six-minute stretch in the second quarter, and led by role players and freshmen, the Mules played some of their best basketball of the past year.
Then the Mules freshmen scored a couple key buckets down the stretch to stave off rival Ilwaco 50-49 and finish fourth. The Fishermen placed sixth.
“Everything we’ve been battling and preaching and trying to overcome,” Garrett said. “I couldn’t have been happier with how well they did that today.”
Trailing 10-7 after the first quarter, Wahkiakum (23-5) turned to junior Charlie Ashe and reserves Alex Watkins, Jansi Merz and Mckensi Fluckiger. Everything in the Mules’ playbook was ran to perfection and the Mules dashed to a 22-14 lead.
“I was having freshman to eight grade passes or freshman to freshman passes,” Garrett said. “And I was like hell yeah, I can watch that for four more years.”
Ilwaco (24-3) fought back and took a 24-22 lead on Eliza Bannister’s 3-pointer just before the half. Back and forth the two would go the rest of the way.
Erika Glenn hit a corner 3-pointer to give Ilwaco a 46-44 lead with 2:16 to go. But Macie Elliott hit a running hook shot and Merz got inside for an easy bucket to give the Mules back the lead at 48-46 with 1:31 remaining. Paige Mace made it a four-point ballgame with a fallaway score in the lane, but Madeline Jacobson countered with a bucket and the free throw to keep it at 50-49 with 46 seconds left.
Makenzie Kaech had the chance to tie it for Ilwaco with two close attempts inside 10 seconds, but both fell short. The Fishermen had one last chance with 6.6 seconds remaining after a Mules’ five-second inbound violation but couldn’t get a shot off.
Macie Elliott and Paige Mace finished with 10 points apiece. Merz added eight for the Mules, who graduate just one senior, Maddy Mace.
“It was awesome,” Maddy Mace said. “It feels great to come out with a win and end my senior season on a win. It’s just amazing.”
For Ilwaco, it’s the end of an era as Kaech, Madeline Jacobson and Bannister all depart. The trio combined for 35 points and 20 rebounds on Saturday, including 13 points apiece from Bannister and Jacobson and nine for Kaech. The team also loses Chandelle Thomas and Taylor Sheldon.
“A pretty special trio that’s been playing together a long time. They all made each other a lot better,” Ilwaco coach Ned Bittner said. “It’s a trio Ilwaco may never see like that again. Definitely a special group. They don’t come around too often like that.”
There’s no telling where Ilwaco will go from here, but the impact this group had on Fishermen hoops is clear. As sophomores, they were talented and the hope was they could compete on the biggest of stages. Two years later, they were bonafide stars and some of the best players on the court in Spokane.
“They definitely weren’t made just by making it,” Bittner said. “They put a lot of time into the gym. Ilwaco will look a lot different next year but they set the tone for expectations and commitment. But it’s hard to say goodbye to this group of seniors.”
It’s Ilwaco’s second consecutive state trophy — they finished fifth last year — and only the second time the program has accomplished back-to-back seasons with hardware. They finished seventh two years in a row in 1986 and ’87.
Wahkiakum brought home its fourth consecutive state trophy — they finished third last year, fifth the year before and second in 2015. And after Saturday’s showing, the Mules appear poised to make a sixth consecutive state tournament next year.
“I know how much time these girls put in collectively,” Garrett said. “I know there’s individuals out there, but as a team, I don’t think there’s a team in the state that puts in as much time as we do.”