Robin Johnson wakes up in the morning hoping to coach basketball games like the one her Tumwater High School girls team played Thursday night in Chehalis — pressure-packed with the T-Birds emerging victorious.
With 5-foot-6 freshman guard Isabella Lund leading the way with several clutch buckets on her way to a team-high 19 points, Tumwater stayed unbeaten in Class 2A Evergreen Conference play with a back-and-forth, 49-46, win over defending 2A state champion W.F. West.
“I love this. I’d play a game like this every single night if I could,” Johnson said in between hugs from delighted Tumwater fans. “The difference was our heart. We talked about that leading up to the game — playing with all our heart and leaving it all on the court.”
Lund, one of three freshmen starters, said the team’s seniors motivated the T-Birds.
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“We came out with high energy,” Lund said. “The seniors said all they wanted from this season is to come out as the underdogs and beat teams like Chehalis.”
While the T-Birds (12-1) relied on their fast break and timely outside shooting, the Bearcats (7-5) went inside time and again to 6-foot senior forward Madi Haakenson, who used drop steps and spin moves to collect a game-high 21 points.
Ultimately, W.F. West lost the game at the foul line, making just six of 21 free throw attempts in their home gym.
Tumwater jumped out to a 15-9 lead late in the first quarter, as every starter but one scored. But, the T-Birds turned the ball over 12 times before halftime — largely as a result the Bearcats’ half-court trap — and W.F. West rallied on pair of baskets by sophomore Maddie Mercke and two more by Haakenson to briefly grab a 19-18 lead late in the second quarter.
“These guys do a great job of forcing turnovers. I thought we did a better job tonight of handling it, but it’s something we need to continue to work on,” Johnson said
The T-Birds had a three-point lead at the half, but the Bearcats took the advantage back in just three minutes of the third quarter, going up 28-27 on a pair of free throws by Annika Waring.
But, W.F. West never built its lead to more than five points, and Tumwater hung around until Lund rapidly propelled the T-Birds back into control in little over a minute of fourth-quarter clock time.
First, she hit a pull up 3-pointer on a Tumwater fast break. Then, after a Haakenson free throw, she nailed another triple from the left corner to put the T-Birds ahead to stay with 4:55 remaining.
Lund pulled up for another fast break 3-pointer on Tumwater’s next possession, hesitated, and had her toes over the line when she made the shot, and was fouled from behind.
Lund made the free throw, Aubrey Amendala followed with a driving layup, and senior Sophia Koelsch knocked down two free throws to give Tumwater its largest lead of the night at 47-39.
Lund said she wondered if she should take the first shot, but after her two 3-pointers went in said, “Yeah, this is who I am. I’m in this game, and I can make these shots.”
To its credit, W.F. West kept battling, and twice made it a one possession game in the final minute. With 17 seconds to play, freshman Drea Brumfield, whose Portland State-bound older sister Erika is out for the season with a knee injury, hit a driving bank shot to make it 48-46.
Tumwater turned the ball over on the ensuing in-bounds pass, but a potential game-winning 3-pointer by Courtney Bennett went halfway down and spun out. Amendala made one of two free throws to finalize the score with six seconds left, and W.F. West was unable to get off another shot.
Although Johnson has often praised her freshman as ready to handle pressure after many tight games playing together for her 90TEN club team, she acknowledged winning under the bright lights of high school ball was a big step.
“There’s nothing like a big high school game,” she said. “Nothing prepares you for this, at any level, not even college. This is the good stuff.”
T – Shooting: 18 of 49 (36.7 percent). Free throws: 9 of 15 (60). Turnovers: 19.
W – Shooting: 18 of 58 (31.3 percent). Free throws: 6 of 21 (28.6). Turnovers: 17.
T – Sophia Koelsch 6, Katie Cunningham 9, Olivia Bailon 5, Aubrey Amendala 8, Isabella Lund 19.
W – Maggie Vadala 3, Drea Brumfield 7, Maddie Mercke 8, Courtney Bennett 3, Sarah Haakenson 2, Annika Waring 2, Madi Haakenson 21.