Second-ranked Cleveland High plays much more comfortably when it’s leading by almost 50 points in the fourth quarter, as it had in its previous six games.
So when the Eagles of Seattle led by three points with 52 seconds to go after watching No. 3 Wilson complete a 13-0 run, you can imagine their discomfort.
“It was kind of tough out there,” Cleveland guard Makayla Roper said. “We just came together and said we have to keep our composure and get some stops on defense.”
Cleveland’s defense didn’t allow another basket in the final minute after Wilson almost roared back from a 16-point fourth-quarter deficit, and the Eagles hung on for a 60-53 win in their closest game during their 13-game winning streak.
Cleveland (14-2) had outscored its previous six opponents by an average of 48 points a game entering the matchup with third-ranked Wilson (11-2).
The Eagles started the season 1-2 – with both losses to out-of-state opponents.
Roper scored a season-high 23 points, with 15 coming in the second half.
After trailing most of the first half, the Eagles got consecutive 3-pointers from Joyce Harrell and Roper in the final minute before halftime to take their first lead.
They led at the break, 29-26.
Wilson went cold from the floor at the end of the first half and was frozen in the third quarter.
The Rams fell back on 1-for-15 shooting the first four minutes of the period after missing their final four shots in the second quarter.
That allowed Cleveland to take a 10-point lead into the final quarter. The Eagles built that lead to 56-40 with five minutes remaining in the game.
Wilson coach Michelle Birge didn’t let her team quit.
“We just had to have faith,” Birge said. “The game was never out of reach and that’s what I was telling them.
“We just needed some shots to fall and keep the faith.”
The Rams didn’t give up a Cleveland basket over the next four minutes of play.
Wilson’s Bethany Montgomery scored some big buckets as part of her team-high 18 points, and with a minute to go they had completed a 13-0 run to trail by three.
“We just got comfortable and relaxed,” Eagles coach Stephanie Wheeler-Smith said. “We acted like the game was over because we had a good lead and most teams that we have played don’t come back fighting like (Wilson) did.”
But most teams the Eagles have played during their winning streak aren’t Wilson, either. Like Cleveland, the Rams know about big fourth quarter leads – winning their previous three games by an average of 63 points.
But Cleveland clamped down on the defensive end in the final minute, made its free throws and handed Wilson its first defeat since an 84-38 loss at Oregon City on Dec. 21.
The Eagles also learned how to win when they aren’t comfortable.
“They had to figure out how to close the game and they did that,” Wheeler-Smith said. “It’s a good test and a good showing of what else we need to work on before the postseason.”