Deja Strother just smiled to herself.
Rarely does a post player try and go right at Inglemoor High School’s 6-foot-5 standout, who is as difficult to move as a granite statue.
But Bellarmine Prep isn’t small, and coach Kevin Meines let his two all-4A Narrows powerhouses — senior Claire Martin and ninth-grader Shalyse Smith — test their mettle against her in the Class 4A girls state quarterfinals Thursday.
For the Lions, not a good one.
The third-ranked Vikings scored the first 17 points and did not look back in blistering No. 5 Bellarmine Prep, 56-33, in the Tacoma Dome.
After back-to-back state quarterfinal defeats the past two seasons, Inglemoor (24-1) is in the state semifinals for the first time in school history, and will face Moses Lake at 7:15 p.m. Friday.
Strother, a University of Washington signee and the only girl from Washington selected for the McDonald’s All-American game, only scored 11 points. But she was a big reason the Vikings outrebounded Bellarmine Prep, 60-35. And she also had seven blocked shots.
When asked if he had ever met a player who enjoyed going one-on-one with Strother, Inglemoor coach John Augustavo did not hesitate with an answer.
“No, I do not,” he said with a wry smile. “I’m glad she is on my team. She is a tough kid to play against.”
As good as Strother was on the interior, it is hard to explain the Lions’ first-day meltdown. They missed their 13 field-goal attempts, and barely avoided a first-quarter shutout when Martin sank a free throw with 19.5 seconds remaining.
Martin scored 11 points, but was met often by Strother, Kennedy Nicholas and Amanda Luckett in the paint and on turnaround shots.
And Smith never got anything going offensively, missing all 14 of her field goal attempts, finishing with just two points.
“We had good shots. We didn’t make them, and it built into a snowball,” Meines said. “They’ve got length. They pressured us. They did a lot of things to take us out of rhythm — but we did not really answer to put ourselves back into a rhythm.”
The Lions’ first made field goal was Martin’s 10-footer in the lane at the 5:59 mark of the second quarter.
“The way we had been playing, I did not think anybody could bother us as much as they did,” Meines said. “It is one of those things — it is the state tournament, and that brings out a little extra (nerves).”
Strother was most satisfied with getting past the 4A quarterfinals for a change.
“This was definitely a big game for us to get over our little hump we were getting stuck on.” Strother said.