Two wins for the Union girls basketball team Tuesday night had the Titans celebrating and breathing a sigh of relief before the postseason begins later this week.
First, Union needed to take care of business against Skyview to force a tie for second place in the 4A Greater St. Helens League. The Titans did that by earning a 77-57 win on their home floor over the Storm.
Then came the second part — a coin flip to decide the No. 2 and 3 seeds out of the league for the 4A bi-district tournament. With both Skyview and Union’s athletic directors at Skyview’s gym for the boys game between the two schools, they flipped a coin after the Union-Skyview girls game went final. Union head coach Gary Mills called heads, and learned from Union athletic director Jamal McKenzie the coin did, in fact, land on heads.
That means the Titans (15-6, 3-3) will play host to Rogers-Puyallup on Friday while Skyview (13-7, 3-3) travels to face South Kitsap on the road. Both are loser-out games.
“We think we really can do this, we really believe we can,” Union’s Brooklynn Haywood said. “It’s just proving ourselves because we’re kind of the underdogs, nobody really knows who we are up there (in the rest of the state). Showing people who we are and having that mindset that we can win.”
Haywood, the top scorer in Southwest Washington, led Union with 31 points on five 3-pointers. Rowyn Riley scored 17 points and Ava Smith added 12 as the Titans built a 13-point halftime lead before holding Skyview at bay over the final 16 minutes.
The result was a marked improvement for a team that lost to Skyview one month ago and had to play catch up in the league standings.
The team was very much a work in progress then with new players like Haywood, a freshman, and transfers Smith and Riley from Camas and Skyview, respectively. Since that 63-57 loss to Skyview on Jan. 6, the Titans have won eight of their last 10 games.
“I just think we have learned how hard we’re going to have to play in order to win games,” Mills said. “Other teams are going to have a game plan and they’re going to try to take away the things we do best. Other people have to step up.”
Among those players Tuesday was Riley, whom Mills said was “huge” for Union. The junior, a typical starter, came off the bench as the Titans started both of their seniors, Mackenzie Spike and Ellie Fleming, on the team’s senior night. Riley checked into the game midway through the opening quarter and scored five quick points and hit a timely 3-pointer in the second quarter as Skyview was in the midst of a rally.
The other key part for Union was its defense, specifically against Skyview’s Jordan Labrador-Hallett, who torched the Titans for 31 points the first time the teams played. Though the senior guard still did damage with a team-high 18 points, but Titans were pleased with their defensive effort.
“Our big focus this game was defense,” Haywood said. “We just think if we play really good defense it will turn into good offense. I think we played great defense tonight. Everyone was where they needed to be.”
“Our girls, we’ve been preaching to them that we’re going to have to be a little better on defense,” Mills added. “We know we can score, but our defense has to get a little better. I thought the girls did a great job of sticking to the game plan tonight and executing on both ends.”
Union preached patience over the first two months of the season as the new-look team got acquainted on and off the court.
Now? They’re jelling, and just in time for the postseason.
“We’ve grown a lot,” Haywood said.
UNION 77, SKYVIEW 57
SKYVIEW — Lainey Phillips 10, Sam Groesbeck 4, Charlotte Baker 5, Brynnlee Williams 3, Kaydance Stratton 0, TaRyah Hamstreet 2, Kiera Parks 7, Keymorah Johnson 6, Chanelle Paschal 2, Jordan Labrador-Hallett 18. Totals 19 (11) 8-11 57.
UNION — Hanna Summers 2, Rowyn Riley 17, Mackenzie Spike 3, Layla Senderson 3, Zoey Robards 3, Ellie Flemming 2, Brooklynn Haywood 31, Ava Smith 12, Alexandria Yelverton 4. Totals 26 (12) 13-18 77.
Skyview 13 13 17 14—57
Union 17 22 18 20—77
JV — Union won