Welcome back to the state championship game, Franklin High School. And Prairie High School, it feels like you never left.
Top-ranked Prairie easily dispatched University 55-41 on Friday in the semifinal round of the 3A girls state tournament to set up a showdown with No. 3 Franklin today for the state title. The Quakers outlasted Metro League rival Cleveland 51-37 in the other semifinal.
“I thought we played great defense and executed the game plan the way we wanted to,” Prairie coach Al Aldridge said. “And we caught University on an off shooting night. That’s what made us look good.”
When the two schools tip off tonight, Prairie will be making its eighth finals appearance in the last 16 seasons, and hoping for its fourth title over that span.
The last time Franklin went this deep at state was 1995, and a state title would be its first by the girls team.
“This is about history and community and team,” Franklin coach Jasen Thomas said. “It’s been about team all season long. Now we want to make some history.”
The Quakers came into the state tournament playing their strongest basketball of the season. After pushing their winning streak to 20 games by knocking off Cleveland, it might be time to start believing Franklin can challenge Prairie.
“It’s just such a wonderful feeling,” Franklin senior Janee Lewis said. “We’ve worked so hard to get here. We had some trouble early on in the season learning to play with each other, but once we figured it out we started this streak and we haven’t slowed down since.”
While the Quakers have made a somewhat surprising run to the championship game, the Falcons’ journey has seemed written in stone since losing to Holy Names in the final last season.
Prairie’s starting lineup from that runner-up finish is mostly intact this season, with one big exception being a healthy Heather Corral.
The University of Washington-bound guard missed postseason play the last two seasons with knee injuries. Now she’s making up for lost time. She scored 18 points in the Falcons’ win against University despite sitting for much of the second half.
“It was nice especially for Heather to settle down and get in a good rhythm early tonight,” Aldridge said.
In the other trophy games today, Shorecrest meets Seattle Prep in the fourth-place game while Cleveland and University will play in the third-place contest.
Still, all eyes will be on Prairie. The Falcons’ experience and depth might be tough to overcome, but it’s nothing they are taking for granted.
“I haven’t really thought too much about Franklin yet, but I know they are going to be a handful,” Aldridge said. “That’s a very athletic team and I know they have great players.”
Franklin feels like it’s up to the challenge.
“We’re knocking on the door,” Thomas said.
“We’ve made it this far; why should we stop now? We just have to keep believing in team.”