Since Maddie Willett stepped onto the Gig Harbor High School campus as a wide-eyed freshman four years ago, the momentum has been building with the Tides’ basketball program.
The first goal was to start winning. Then, make the playoffs. Then, make the state tournament. Now? Win a state tournament.
Gig Harbor took a big step toward that goal on Friday night in the Class 3A state tournament semifinals, posting a complete 55-46 win over West Seattle to advance to the state championship game on Saturday night, against Garfield.
Willett, now a senior, has been a major catalyst for the program’s natural progression from a solid basketball team to a state title contender. She scored 18 points in the win.
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“It’s really awesome because this is the final round for me,” Willett said. “It’s really awesome that we’re here, we keep getting better every single that I’ve been on the team. I think it’s really special that we’re in the statre championship. That’s incredible. It’s kind of hard to believe.”
For those who have kept tabs on Gig Harbor’s program this season, it’s not too hard to believe, with the play of Willett and junior star Brynna Maxwell, who scored a game-high 24 points, including 18 of Gig Harbor’s 25 first-half points.
“It feels really good — I can’t describe it,” Maxwell said. “The intensity keeps mounting up and our team keeps coming through. I’m really proud of them. West Seattle went on some runs but we managed to hold on and go on runs of our own. Every year, our expectations have been built higher and higher. … We’re trying to win a state championship. I’m really proud of my team.”
Gig Harbor jumped out to a 16-7 lead in the first quarter and led 25-18 at half. While West Seattle threatened a few times, Gig Harbor never conceded the lead, going up 37-32 at the end of the third quarter before pulling out the 55-46 win.
Maxwell had aggressive double teams thrown at her and didn’t score in the second half until late in the fourth quarter. But mentally, she kept her head in the game and knocked down two clutch shots in the game’s waning minutes to seal the win.
“She keeps fighting,” Gig Harbor coach Megan Murray said about her junior sharpshooter. “She’s dead tired out there from having someone glued to her but she will figure out a way to get open and get shots off. That’s just a next level player for you. That’s where her head is at.”
West Seattle was paced by Grace Carver’s 13 points, while senior Meghan Fiso added 123 and junior Jasmine Gayles tallied 11 points in the loss.
Gig Harbor guard Sydney Langworthy added 11 points for the Tides, in addition to her usual pesky defensive play.
Every time West Seattle made a run, Gig Harbor had an answer. The composure throughout the game was a sign of a veteran, experienced squad.
“We just always tell each other that we believe in each other, to always have confidence and I think it’s really special that we all believe in each other and think that everyone can make the shots,” Willett said. “Everyone can get stops and that we can just play together as a team and play amazing.”
Gig Harbor will face Garfield High School tomorrow night for the Class 3A state championship at 9 p.m. at the Tacoma Dome.
Gig Harbor already beat Garfield earlier this year, posting a 64-56 win over the Bulldogs on Jan. 13.
But Gig Harbor’s players know that a regular season win is meaningless now.
“They want revenge,” Maxwell said. “They’re coming for blood. They have a really good post and a couple really good guards. We just have to come out and play the way we’ve been playing and we’ll be good.”
Generally, when a team gets a shot at avenging a loss, it comes out with intensity. In the state championship game? That will only be amplified.
“We have to exceed that intensity, go for every loose ball and just have to keep playing like we have been playing,” Maxwell said. “We can’t let up. We know they’re going to go on some runs so we have to go on some of our own. We know it’s not going to be an easy game but we know we can do it.”
West Seattle: Carver 13, Fiso 12, Gayles 11, Lenzie 8, Horne 2.
Gig Harbor: Maxwell 24, Willett 18, Langworthy 11, Stewart 1, Neil 1.