Prairie girls have been all about charging ahead

Tim Martinez: High schools

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For the record, the Prairie girls basketball team’s current winning streak stands at one.

But it’s a big one.

In a game that was in many ways a microcosm for the Falcons’ season, Prairie fended off a late charge from White River of Buckley on Saturday and clinched its 14th consecutive trip to state.

And that earned a big sigh of relief from coach Al Aldridge.

Relieved? Al Aldridge? Just for making it to state?

Yes, it’s been that kind of season for the Falcons.

It’s a season that began in December with a roster that contained just two seniors, three freshmen who would be asked to make immediate contributions and a sense of uncertainty after the offseason departure of two All-Region performers.

But the Falcons charged ahead, opening the season with the Nike Northwest Shootout against some elite teams from across the country.

The result was a pair of losses that Prairie had been more used to being on the winning side of — 70-36 to Southridge of Beaverton, Ore., and 93-37 to Potter’s House of Florida.

But the Falcons pushed ahead, running off four straight solid wins against Southwest Washington foes, just like they’ve been doing for the past decade.

Then came the holiday tournament in Delaware and a couple more losses, including the biggest one of the year. That actually occurred during a victory on the scoreboard, when sophomore post Heather Corral was lost for the season with a knee injury.

Still, the Falcons moved forward, opening the Class 3A Greater St. Helens League season with eight wins by an average margin of 32 points. Suddenly, everything looked like business as usual at Prairie.

Then came a two-point win over Camas and six-point win over Columbia River that left the Falcons looking vulnerable. That vulnerability was further exposed in the district championship game against a Camas team ready to pounce.

The loss to Camas ended a 10-year winning streak in league and district play for Prairie.

And while his players were left to consider how that loss to Camas would impact their place in Prairie’s history, Aldridge was more worried about how it would impact Prairie’s immediate future.

“It was kind of scary,” Aldridge said. “I thought ‘oh my, oh my, oh my. That is not a good draw for us.’ That’s why the Camas loss was so painful. It put us in hard situation to qualify for state.”

That draw started with a game against No. 5 White River, a team that had battled top-ranked Kennedy in a sub-district playoff before losing. It also included a possible loser-out game against Auburn-Mountainview, a team that had lost by one and three points to White River this season.

“I was talking to the Auburn-Mountainview coach, and he said he thought they could get (White River) if they got another chance,” Aldridge said.

Thanks to Prairie, Auburn Mountainview will get that chance.

Against White River, Prairie opened up a 21-point lead in the third quarter. And again, all looked right with the Falcons.

But that was when, as Aldridge put it, “our youth showed up.”

White River’s pressure led to Prairie turnovers. Missed free throws and defensive lapses gave White River more chances, and eventually the 21-point lead was down to two. But as they’ve done throughout the season, the Falcons regrouped and prevailed for a 64-58 victory.

Prairie is going back to state. And to get there, the Falcons needed that youth to show up in a positive fashion.

Freshman Emily Rowe had 10 points, nine rebounds and played stellar defense. Another freshman, Jackie Lanz, added 15 points and held White River’s top scorer in check before leaving the game with a back injury.

And now the Falcons move on to their next challenge, securing a favorable draw at the state tournament. That involves winning one of two games this week in the bi-district tournament to earn a top seed to state.

That begins Wednesday against Bonney Lake.

A favorable state tournament draw will help the Falcons maintain another of those streaks — 13 consecutive years of playing in a trophy game on Saturday at state.

Tim Martinez is the assistant sports editor/prep coordinator for The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4538 or e-mail attim.martinez@columbian.com