High School Sports

Two-time defending Class 3A girls champion Cleveland avoids upset-minded Wilson, 53-50

About the time the Wilson High girls were sprinting, cutting and weaving their way through a standing-around Cleveland defense for a big first-half lead, Jayde Christopher allowed herself to soak in the bad news on the scoreboard.

Down 20-6?

Huh?

Gotta do something about that.

And the Kansas-bound point guard did — just in time.

The two-time defending Class 3A champion Eagles trailed for the first 31/2 quarters, but rallied to turn away Wilson, 53-50, in a Class 3A quarterfinal game Thursday morning at the Tacoma Dome.

Admittedly not much of a scorer, Christopher was on this day, finishing with 16 points. Aqeelah Williams, a transfer from Mount Rainier High School, added all 12 of her points in the final 10 minutes, 8 seconds.

Fifth-ranked Cleveland (18-8) moves on to face No. 8 Bishop Blanchet in an all-Metro League semifinal showdown Friday. The No. 6 Rams take on Arlington in an elimination game.

Wilson made six of its first 10 shots — and five in a row at one point — to grab an 18-5 first-quarter advantage. Its lead grew to 20-6 on Josie Matz’s runner with 6:40 remaining in the first half.

“You know, I like passing,” Christopher said. “But I had to make (scoring) more No. 1. When I saw the scoreboard, it was 20-6. I said, ‘Oh no, this cannot go on.’ I was ready to roll.”

Her seven points in the final 4:06 of the half kept it from getting out of hand.

And in the second half, as Wilson slowed down, the Eagles kept chipping away at the deficit.

“It’s all about the fight,” Cleveland coach Jamie Redd said. “Peaks and valleys.”

Williams’ baseline 10-footer gave Cleveland its first lead, 42-41, with 5:25 to go.

The lead changed hands five times in the fourth quarter, until Myla Hightower’s putback gave the Eagles the lead for good, 46-45, at the 4:01 mark.

Wilson coach Michelle Birge pointed to three things that allowed the game to get away — defensive rebounding, poor offensive execution and in-game decision-making.

“Our minds would not allow our bodies to do what we needed to do,” Birge said. “We just have to get better thinking on our feet.”

After Hightower split a pair of free throws with seven seconds remaining, the Rams had one final chance to tie. But Matz’s off-balance 3-point attempt from the left side at the buzzer banked off the glass too hard.

Kapri Morrow led the Rams with 17 points and 13 rebounds. Kiki Knox added 14 points and 15 rebounds.

“I think they stole one from us,” Birge said. “They are two-time (state) champions … and champions know how to win ballgames, and do all the small things.”

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