Before opening the door to a joyous locker room packed with screaming players, Yelm girls basketball coach Russ Riches and assistant coach Marianna Smith reminisced about a similar run to a Narrows League title four years ago.
Both agreed it sure felt good to be back in that celebratory mood Wednesday night as they went in to embrace the Tornados’ latest title.
Yelm wrapped up the Class 4A Narrows League title with a 54-45 victory over host Bellarmine Prep, sweeping the season series between the two teams.
“Our kids just did a great job preparing for this,” Riches said. “We had a loss Jan. 4 against Gig Harbor that was a wake-up call for us, and since then they’ve just taken it one game at a time.”
The Tornados got a career night from junior McKaiela Tyler, who poured in 26 points off the bench to lead the way.
“Tyler just shot the lights out,” Riches said. “She’s capable of doing that. I basically have six kids that are starters (playing) for five spots. We know when she comes off the bench she’s going to give us a spark.”
Tyler scored 16 points in the first half, and had no idea how many points she ended up with.
“(The league title) feels amazing,” she said. “I’m so proud of my team. All that I cared about was winning the league. I love my team ...we worked so hard.”
Anushka Maldonado added 11 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks for Yelm (17-3, 10-2 Narrows 4A), which used defensive rebounding and a stellar third quarter to subdue the Lions.
After leading 24-22 at halftime, the Tornados opened the third quarter on a 14-2 run. Maldonado hit a pair of free throws and a 3-pointer, and Tyler added a layup to close out the run and push Yelm’s lead to 38-24 with 2 minutes, 58 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
“Coming into tonight, we knew we had to battle the boards, and we knew we had to be able to take away the drive, and I thought (the girls) did a nice job of that,” Riches said.
The Lions trimmed the lead to 45-40 with 1:55 remaining after Jasmyne Holmes hit a pair of free throws, but the Tornados were stellar from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter (14-for-16) and were able to close it out for the program’s first league title as a Class 4A team.
“They’ve got some clutch kids,” Bellarmine Prep coach Kevin Meines said. “Our hats are off to them for making the shots that they made. We tried to make it as difficult as we could, but they were able to pull it out.”
Jayana Ervin led the Lions (13-7, 10-2) with 10 points, while Holmes finished with eight.
“They played a great game,” Meines said. “They are well deserving of being our league champions.” preps.theolympian.com