John Ainslie has a great deal of respect for what the Wilson High School girls basketball team has accomplished in the past five seasons — three Class 3A state tournament trips and two regional-round berths.
And the Bethel High girls coach has an even greater appreciation for what it takes to win at those junctures.
In a back-and-forth thriller, it was Emma Johnson’s last-second steal that wrapped up the Braves’ first state trip since 2005 in a 55-53 victory Saturday night over the Rams at Rogers High School.
And here is the kicker: It was Ainslie’s first win in three decades as the Bethel coach at either the regional or state-tournament round.
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“The last couple of games, we hadn’t been able to finish,” Ainslie said. “And when it got to that point, the girls were starting to think about it.
“In the final timeout, we told them … ‘Let’s get ’er done.’ ”
And the Braves did, turning away Josie Matz and a Rams senior group that had made a living in the postseason for their careers.
After trailing most of the game, Wilson took a 48-46 lead on Kiara McMillian’s 3-pointer with 1:58 remaining.
But Bethel (20-5) scored on three trips in a row — twice on buckets by Johnson in the interior.
But Matz would not go down lightly. Her deep 3-pointer cut Bethel’s lead to 54-53 with eight seconds remaining.
Nanalia Wagoner was fouled at the Braves’ end, and she split two free throws — giving the Rams one final chance to tie — or win — with 5.5 seconds remaining.
Matz took it up the left side, and tried throwing backward to Brooklyn Grant at the top of the 3-point arc.
Johnson read it perfectly, picked off the bounce pass and sprinted the other way to run out the clock.
“I knew Brooke was the shooter,” Johnson said. “I saw it coming, and I went for it.
“It was the whole team — we all did it together.”
In her high school finale, Matz poured in a game-high 24 points for the Rams (16-10) — half of that coming in the final quarter.
But now it might be the Braves’ turn to make a multiyear run with their young group.
“This game meant so much,” Ainslie said. “I told them, ‘This is a game you will remember for the rest of your lives, because you will go to the Tacoma Dome.’ Now everything is ahead of them.”