A season ago the Washington girls basketball team carried a .500 record — with several close losses — into the playoffs only to get hot and come away Class AA champions.
This time around, and after Saturday’s triumph over gritty cross-town rival Roosevelt, the Warriors head into postseason play having already answered any questions about how good they could be.
Washington trailed 29-27 at halftime but used a balanced attack to seize control in the final minute for a 58-51 victory — and 18-2 finish to the regular season. Four Warriors, all seniors, reached double figures, led by Syd Arrington with 16 points. Maddie Wiley and Carly Knutson each had 13, while Anna Goodhope added 12.
“We have seniors who can talk to each other,” Arrington said. “We know each other very well, and we know where the openings are. When things get rough like tonight, we knew to keep each other calm and we’re fine. And the coaches know, too.”
An early Washington spurt to start the fourth quarter, led by a Knutson trey, gave the Warriors a 47-41 lead and they added to it with a pair of free throws. Roosevelt’s Tahia Mitzel amped up the defensive pressure to help the Riders close the gap to 49-48. Mitzel had a pair of steals and Peyton Stolle, the game’s leading scorer with 21 points, made a couple of baskets.
Roosevelt’s offense cooled from there, while the Warriors — particularly Arrington and Goodhope — willed their way to the basket and foul line.
“Everybody has a role, and that’s one of their roles,” said Washington coach Jamie Parish. “They’ll take that on their shoulders. That’s not easy for a kid, because there’s a risk — you might miss. There’s a risk something goes wrong. It takes a mentally tough kid to want to take those shots and make those plays.”
Junior guard Kenzi Phillips made her share of plays for the Riders in the second quarter. Phillips netted 10 of her 15 points in the frame, while Stolle also got her points a variety of ways — inside, outside and at the line. Roosevelt was less efficient in the second half, shooting 9-for-27 from the field (to finish 21-for-50 for the game).
“I told the girls, it’s not that we’re ‘almost there.’ We are there. We’re in this game,” said Roosevelt coach David Maxwell. “We just had a two or three minute stretch where they made some shots and we didn’t, and that’s the game. But I’m still really proud of us and proud of our effort.”
Roosevelt dropped a similarly close loss to another ranked city-rival, Lincoln, on Thursday.
“We want to be playing our best basketball at the end of the year,” Maxwell said, “and honestly, we lost [the last] two games, but we are. I think that’s probably one of the best games we have played all year. And I think those are two of the best teams we’re going to play in the state. I’m excited about where we’re at.”
For Washington, the combination of depth, balance, experience and confidence could be a dangerous combination for its opponents. Having a close, playoff-atmosphere ending to the regular season is just a bonus.
Parish said he asked his team how many close games they’ve played in two years.
“Last year we probably dropped six or seven of those games midway through the fourth quarter,” Parish said. “This year, give our kids a ton of credit. Sometimes it’s not pretty, but they find a way to win. They’re getting that end result.”
Parish also said that last year’s Warriors — a .500 team seemingly on the cusp of getting over the hump — had a lot in common with this year’s Rough Riders.
“We knew they were going to come out ready to play, to try to get one more win and win a close game, and see if that carries over into the next couple of games for them.”
It worked for Washington.