How hard is it to beat the same league basketball opponent four times in one season?
It’s a fingernail-biting endeavor.
And for the second-ranked Cleveland High School Eagles to defeat Metro League rival Seattle Prep for a final time, they needed overtime Saturday – but pulled out a tension-filled 45-43 victory to win the Class 3A state girls’ basketball championship in the Tacoma Dome.
Alexia Mefi scored 15 points for the Eagles, but the win came on two key exchanges on both ends in overtime – one on Asiyah Davis’ game-winning putback in the lane with 18 seconds to go, and Joyce Harrell’s block of Michaela Carew’s lay-up for the Panthers with three seconds remaining.
Up 45-43, all Cleveland had to do was inbound the ball after a jump-ball call after Harrell’s defensive stop. The Eagles turned the ball over, giving No. 6 Seattle Prep one final possession with less than a second remaining.
But on the inbounds play, Carew did not see teammate Andraya Flor leave her spot in the corner, and air-mailed a pass out of bounds.
The Eagles sent their next inbounds pass long where Seattle Prep retrieved it, but could not get off a buzzer-beating shot near midcourt.
“I am proud of them,” Cleveland coach Stephanie Wheeler-Smith said. “They’ve got a lot of heart, go a lot of faith. And fight.”
They needed every ounce of all three to pull this one out.
Cleveland’s pressure totally disrupted the Panthers early on. They committed seven turnovers in the first four minutes. They gave up the first nine points to the Eagles in 41/2 minutes. And they trailed big at halftime – 29-14.
Something woke them up in the second half. They scored on their first 10 possessions and nearly erased all of a 15-point deficit by the end of the quarter, trailing 33-32.
Seattle Prep (23-6) took its first lead, 36-34, on Carew’s two free throws with 5:12 remaining.
“I don’t think they were expecting us to come out that strong in the second half,” Carew said. “We have five seniors on our team. We wanted to win a state championship. I am so proud of how we played.”
Honestly, the Eagles looked dead in the water, having had two scoring skids of five minutes or longer in each quarter of the second half. But Ladd saved the day at the end of regulation when she cut long the right side of the lane and hit a tough 8-footer to send the game into overtime, tied at 38-38.
The scored was tied twice in the extra session – the last time at 43-43 – when Cleveland (27-2) had three shots at the basket. Makala Roper missed a corner 3-pointer, and Harrell’s putback clanked off – but the basketball went right to Davis, who was just standing behind her teammate in the lane.
Davis feathered her shot that hit the rim but dropped through for a bucket, and 45-43 Eagles’ lead.
Carew appeared to have a clear path to a game-tying putback, but Harrell went up and slapped it away.
Cleveland ended the season on a 26-game winning streak, and won its second 3A title in four years.