In the absence of their leader, senior point guard Maddie Clouse, the Prairie girls basketball team needed a total team effort to start the postseason.
The result, a 50-37 win for the Falcons over Timberline in the Class 3A bi-district tournament on Friday, was, in their eyes, among the most complete performances of the season on both ends of the floor.
“I feel like this game we worked as a team the most that we have this whole year,” said Prairie’s Claire Smith, who led the Falcons with 16 points. “It was really cool to see how we can work together.”
With Emma Smith chipping in 10 points, Janae Taison, a JV call-up, adding eight points and August Kissinger collecting seven points, the Falcons survived one loser-out game and will have another on Tuesday at Gig Harbor.
“Honestly, it just feels amazing to get to this point, because I think a lot of people have been doubting us these last couple years,” senior Joely Renk said. “We haven’t gotten the league title, but we’re getting it together and working on a better program.”
According to Prairie coach Mike Smith, the hope is those extra days will be enough time to welcome back Clouse, who suffered an ankle sprain in a Feb. 1 game against Evergreen and watched Friday’s game from the bench with a walking boot on.
The Falcons (11-9) played the second half of that game without her and battled to a narrow, 51-47 defeat against Evergreen to decide the 3A Greater St. Helens League champion.
Nine days days later, with a ton of time to prepare for Timberline, the Falcons’ response to a bump in the road was a convincing one.
“It definitely took a toll on us, losing that game when we were leading up to it all season,” Renk said, “but we just knew we had to stick together to get where we wanted to go.”
Prairie’s buzzword for the week leading up to Friday was intensity, particularly on the defensive end. It starts with Renk, the team’s toughest defender who’s often draws the assignment of guarding the opponent’s top player.
Timberline, led by 19 points from Shayla Cordis, took a 14-11 advantage after the first quarter, but after the Falcons opened the second quarter on a 7-0 run, the lead was theirs for the remainder of the game.
Prairie held Timberline to quarters of six, eight and nine points for the remainder of the game, and a 16-8 advantage in the third proved to be the difference.
During a three-minute sequence to end the third quarter, back-to-back layups from Claire Smith and Emma Smith, plus 3-pointers from Kissinger and Emma Smith stretched the Falcons’ lead to 40-26, their largest of the game. They maintained a double-digit advantage for the final eight minutes.
“It really came down to defense, and I think we worked so hard,” Claire Smith said. “And … instead of shooting just for ourselves, we’re making that extra pass to someone and we’re shooting as a team.”
“We’ve kind hung our hat on defense all year,” Mike Smith added. “We’ve held a lot of teams under 40 (points). … I think we really play well defensively and that really messes people up.”
The Falcons also advanced to the second round of last year’s bi-district tournament before their season came to an end in a loss to Auburn Mountainview.
They set their sights on returning to that stage this season and giving themselves a chance to advance even further. Prairie now has that opportunity when it faces Gig Harbor (12-9) on Tuesday.
“Just getting to that next step, that’s our goal and we’re going to focus on that,” Mike Smith said. “And I tell them, every time you make a step, we got a tougher team to play. But we’re a tough team too.”
“We just have to work harder than ever,” Renk said.
PRAIRIE 50, TIMBERLINE 37
TIMBERLINE — Azaria Landry 6, Shayla Cordis 19, Danielle Smith 7, Jasmyn Polanco 4, Aliyah Taylor 0, Ny’aijah Wimbish-Haines 1. Totals 13 (0) 11-24 37.
PRAIRIE — Janae Taison 8, Claire Smith 16, Emma Smith 10, August Kissinger 7, Lily Samwel 0, Natalie Coughran 0, Halle Lovejoy 5, Joely Renk 4, Ruby Morningstar 0, Chasity Murphy 0. Totals 21 (6) 2-4 50.
Timberline 14 6 8 9—37
Prairie 11 13 16 10—50