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News / Sports / Prep Sports

Top-ranked Prairie girls upend No. 5 West Seattle in King Showcase

In its quest for a state tournament run, the Falcons clear another hurdle

By Andy Buhler, Columbian Staff Writer
Published: January 21, 2019, 5:23pm
KENT — When it came to the state tournament last season, Brooke Walling remembers the stark differences down to the details.
Faster face of play. More physical. Heightened pressure.

“It was definitely a culture shock,” Walling said.

So when the No. 1 Prairie girls basketball team beat No. 5 West Seattle in the annual King Showcase at Kent’s ShoWare Center 58-50 on Monday in a battle between two top five teams in the 3A classification, it passed a test that a year ago, the Falcons saved for March.

Call it a bit of validation, if you will.

“It helps us know that we can compete with all these teams up north,” Walling said.

Cassidy Gardner hit four 3-pointers in the first half, and the Falcons held West Seattle to four points in the third quarter to build a lead and hold on.

Gardner scored 19 points, a team high. Walling added 15 points and Meri Dunford scored 13 and grabbed nine rebounds — four offensive.

The Falcons’ offense got going, but not until its defense began to produce stops. That’s usually how it goes for Prairie, Walling said.

“Once we were getting stops on defense, everybody was finding ways to score,” Walling said. “Kendyl (Carson) got some layups, Cassidy was hitting a lot of 3s in the first half. That was really big for us, that was a huge spark.”

Prairie returns its entire team from last season, when it lost to Seattle Prep in the regional round, and added a dynamic 5-foot-11 transfer from Alaska in Kendyl Carson.

But Prairie lacked depth this season, and head coach Hala Corral lamented leaning on Walling and Gardner to play nearly the whole game. After the season, Corral apologized to her starters for not giving them more rest. “Part of that is on me,” Corral said.

That’s no issue for the Falcons this season, who subbed often throughout much of Monday’s game.

“I was gassed at the end of the season last year when I had to play close to the entire game,” Walling said. “So having people come in, getting subs, just the energy staying up … it’s really awesome for us.”

Added Dunford: “The bench players have done a really good job of staying in the game and stepping it up, (and) having the mentality that, just because I’m coming off the bench doesn’t mean I’m any less a part of this team than anyone else.”

West Seattle cut the deficit to single digits in the fourth quarter, led by Meghan Fiso’s 19 points. But Prairie did not relent. Walling hit a 3 with 2:19 left to push the lead to 12 and Prairie held on.

West Seattle’s point total was tied for a season low.

The win helps the Falcons twofold.

First, it bolsters their RPI ranking, which is something the program has felt under-ranked by coming out of the 3A Greater St. Helens League.

But perhaps more importantly for top-ranked Prairie is the experience it gives them before the postseason. Such a game was something the team was missing last season. This year, Prairie filled its schedule with road tests at Snohomish, Glacier Peak and a holiday tournament in San Diego.

When organizer of the King Showcase asked Corral if Prairie would play, she took the invite to athletic director Jason Castro, who gave the thumbs up.

“We have to be road tested,” Corral said. “Everything we do is for state. League is great, but it’s all about getting us mentally and physically ready for state.

“The (kids) have a mindset this year. They’re just more focused and determined.”

King Showcase
At the ShoWare Center in Kent
PRAIRIE — Meri Dunford 13, Allison Corral 0, Kendyl Carson 4, Brooke Walling 15, Mallory Williams 3, Cassidy Gardner 19, Claire Heitschmidt 0, Hannah Close 0, Haley Reed 4. Totals 21 (7) 9-15 58.
WEST SEATTLE — Ciera Jorge 0, Kelsey Lenzie 3, Jasmine Gayles 9, Grace Sarver 13, Julianna Horne 3, Jayla Wilson 3, Meghan Fiso 19, Anissa Babitu 0. Totals 17 (5) 11-12 50.
Prairie 13 16 12 17 — 58
West Seattle 13 14  4 19 — 50
Columbian Staff Writer