Shalyse Smith looked as if she hadn’t worked up a sweat.
With how relentless she played — finishing with 16 points and 25 rebounds — you’d think she would have been huffing and puffing for air. Smith seemed ready for 32 more minutes of basketball, even if that wasn’t close to true.
“Oh, I was tired,” Smith said. “I had coach call timeout one time because I couldn’t run anymore.”
Smith’s tenacity kept the Bellarmine Prep girls basketball team in this game despite a rough third quarter against Todd Beamer, and then she helped the Lions run away in the fourth for a 53-46 victory on Friday at Mount Tahoma.
And now, this Bellarmine Prep team that has won eight of the past 10 outright titles in its league is guaranteed of its ninth trip to the Tacoma Dome since the 2005-06 season for the 4A state tournament.
“We’ve built a dominant program,” Bellarmine coach Kevin Meines said. “Our kids — every day they are coming in and they say we want our reputation to be earned. We earn it every day in practice, we earn it in games. We are a pretty well-kept secret around here."
The Lions (21-1) outscored Beamer 25-16 in the final period to advance in the 4A West Central/Southwest bidistrict tournament. They’ll face Kentridge in the district semifinals at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Puyallup High School.
“We wanted to be a district championship and state championship team,” Smith said. “So we brought ourselves together, we told each other we have it. We believed in ourselves.”
These teams came out in a breakneck pace, with the kind of aggressive play you’d expect from two of the top 4A programs in the South Sound.
But the few open looks Beamer had at the basket in the first half stopped altogether in the fourth quarter. And Bellarmine started knocking down the open looks it wasn’t hitting in the first half.
The Lions were held to 16 points in the first half. But the 6-foot-1 Smith scored 12 of her 16 points in the second half — whether by storming to the basket from the top of the key, crashing the offensive boards or hitting a post-up move.
More impressive was that those 25 rebounds came against Beamer’s standout posts — 6-foot-2 Darion Brown and 6-foot-1 Makenzie Bond.
“She’s a dominant player,” Meines said. “She’s been doing that all year.
“The tenacity she shows going after the ball — you can’t coach that. That’s one of the intangibles that makes her the special player she is.”
Japhera McEachin had Beamer rolling in the first half. She finished with 16 points.
And the Titans (19-5) looked as if they might take over when McEachin hit a pair of free throws to give them a 24-17 lead in the third quarter.
But Bellarmine went on a 7-0 run to start the fourth quarter and took a 35-32 lead when Ciara Gatpatan hit a long two-point shot from the top of the key. Jenny Hagle’s 3-pointer from the right corner was the dagger — giving Bellarmine a 49-42 lead with less than two minutes to play.
“I was just glad it went in,” Hagle said. “I was really off in the first half and Reyelle (Frazier) had a great pass up the court, and I was the one who was open.”
Hagle scored seven of her 12 points in the fourth quarter.
“I think especially since last year we didn’t make it to the Dome, all of us just wanted it so badly,” Hagle said. “After every mistake or a missed shot we came together and were saying we got this and just staying confident.”
Beamer now heads to a loser-out game at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Stadium after winning the district title each of the past two years. It can still clinch a state berth with one more win.
But Bellarmine’s trip to the Tacoma Dome is secured because of the WIAA’s new state tournament format and its implementation of RPI rankings. The top eight teams in the RPI that qualify for the state tournament are guaranteed of a trip to the Dome.
“Both of us knew what was on the line here — we were both fighting to get into the Tacoma Dome and get that spot,” Meines said. “(Beamer coach Corey Alexander) coaches them so well that it’s engrained in them — that fight. I think both of our programs share that — that we’re going to fight."
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677