After struggling to a pair of non-league girls basketball victories in recent weeks, Prairie left no doubt about Friday's game at Union.
"We played a great first half, then I think we came out playing not to lose and weren't aggressive in the second half," said Mike Smith, in his first year as the Falcons' coach.
No matter. On the way to a 65-55 non-league victory over the host Titans, Prairie built a 36-11 lead and controlled the game when it was able to control the tempo in the battle of ranked teams.
"I think our pressure — a lot of teams prepare for it but they don't know until they see it," Smith said.
That long has been a hallmark of Prairie girls basketball, a style of play that helped the Falcons to six state championships under Al Aldridge. That pedigree includes a title last March, shortly before Aldridge took over the Clark College women's program.
"We knew Prairie was a good team," Union's Tessa Vanderpool said. "We were looking for a challenge. We were looking to grow as a team."
The Titans (5-3), No. 8 in The Seattle Times ranking of Class 4A teams, faced that challenge from the start.
Prairie (8-0 and ranked No. 2 in Class 3A) had recently defeated Mark Morris with a buzzer-beater and had held on to beat W.F. West by three points.
But the Falcons jumped to a 10-0 lead against Union and had a 26-11 advantage at the end of the first quarter behind 10 points from Cori Woodward, who finished with 24.
"I think we came into it knowing how good they are," Woodward said. "We came out mentally focused, which we hadn't done the last couple games."
The Falcons got a boost from the Titans' attempts to run with them and to play a pressing defense at the outset.
"I'm not really worried about it," Smith said of facing an opponent's full-court press. "With Cori, she just goes right through it."
Trailing 43-20 at the half, Union made a game of it by taking advantage of its size and pounding the ball inside. Jessica Chatman, a 6-foot-1 wing, finished with 19 points and 15 rebounds and made 11 of 16 free throws.
Emily Rowe, a 6-foot-1 post player who spent her freshman year on the Prairie varsity and two years at St. Mary's Academy in Portland before arriving at Union this year, finished with 10 points.
"We held our composure and we played to our strengths," Vanderpool said. "We have a little more height, and we took advantage of that down low."
Prairie also was hampered by an injury to senior starter Megan Lindsley, who landed awkwardly while making a layup in the second quarter. Lindsley spent the rest of the game on the bench with her shoe off and bag of ice resting on her left foot and ankle.
"I think it's a sprain," Smith said. "Hopefully."
Union used its inside game and dominated the boards while whittling away at the lead. The Titans pulled within 52-40 early in the fourth quarter before the Falcons were able to regain control.
Prairie built the lead back to 20 points, and Union closed the contest with a 12-2 run to account for the final score.
"We've got to finish games," Smith said, "not relax."
PRAIRIE 65, UNION 55
PRAIRIE -- Lindsey Asplund 12, Cori Woodward 24, Aislinn Konig 4, Jamie Phares 4, Robin Cole 0, Nicole Geocke 12, Emily Peters 0, Megan Lindsley 5, Rachel Deaton 0, Cherita Daugherty 4. Totals 21 (6) 17-23 65.
UNION -- Tessa Vanderpool 10, Tuileisu Anderson 1, Kendra Preuninger 9, Molly Petrie 0, Katie Burbank 2, Hannah O'Donnell 4, Jessica Chatman 19, Emily Rowe 10. Totals 17 (3) 18-28 55.
Prairie 26 17 9 13--65
Union 11 9 15 20--55
JV -- Union won. C -- Prairie won.