Photos by Kurt Howard
Mt Rainier's fans in the stands show their strong support for their team. CLICK THE IMAGE ABOVE OR SCROLL DOWN TO VIEW MORE

SLIDESHOW: Rams join final four

TACOMA - Resilience and the desire to win rallied the top-ranked Class 4A Mount Rainier girls basketball team to a 61-56 quarterfinal win against fifth-ranked Inglemoor on Thursday, Feb. 28, in the Tacoma Dome in a featured match up of the 2013 WIAA/Les Schwab Tires state Hardwood Classic.

With her team trailing 56-51 after Brittany McPhee had absorbed punishing blows throughout three quarters, she decided it was time to deal out some deadly counter punches.

"Their big girls inside were tough and pushing me, so I decided I was going back inside and show strength," said McPhee, who closed out with 28 points on 7-for-14 field goal shooting and clutch 14-of-15 free throw conversions. "I just went in and shot them down."

McPhee also cleared 15 boards and blocked two shots.

The Rams (26-1) moved into a final four match up against Mead and the McPhee twins' cousin Mackenzie McPhee who is the Mead starting center. Inglemoor (21-3) went into the consolation bracket.

Despite being situated nearly 300 miles away from each other, the Mead Vikings and the Mount Rainier Rams are connected by more than the McPhee cousins. Jade Redmon and Sue Winger play on a club team with Brittany in the off season.

In addition to McPhee maneuvering inside for baskets or fouls, the Ram full court, man-to-man press ruptured the Viking sails to cross half court. Jordan McPhee opened fourth quarter scoring with a basket after emerging from a scramble. Following an Inglemoor back court turnover, Jordan fed Brittany for a basket.

Inglemoor threw the ball away to set the stage for Brittany clear herself inside for a hanging, double pump basket in the key with 1:08 remaining in regulation. Haining fouled out with 44.4 seconds remaining to send Brittany to the free throw line where the nearly automatic shooter swished two free throws for a 59-56 lead.

The fifth ranked Vikings failed to capitalize on two opportunities to tie. On one of the opportunities Fiso defensed away a driving opponent and eventually was fouled with 3.3 seconds left. Fiso converted both free throws and the Ram victory was a done deal.

"I just didn't give her a chance to get inside," said Fiso, who finished with 13 points (including three-for-six from beyond the three-point arc) plus eight total rebounds. I knew that all possessions mattered. I had to step up for the team."

Thursday action began with intensity that befit two teams squaring off for the right to continue to the championship game.

Inglemoor buffeted Brittany McPhee with powerful body action, but Mount Rainier's Emily Fiso and Aqueelah Williams nailed three-point goals that helped the Rams into an 8-5 first quarter lead. The density of bodies inside the key made the task of penetrating to the Viking basket laborious and difficult. Jordan McPhee scored to improve the Ram position to 10-5. Ram speed was a decided factor.

Jordan assisted Brittany, who was fouled and made two free throws for a 12-6 margin before Conroy scored four Viking points in a row. Brittany McPhee hit four consecutive free throws ahead of a steal, dribble and basket that countered a Deja Strother free throw as the Rams forged an18-11 lead after one quarter.

A pair of Brittany free throws and a Kaiti Freeburg basket stretched the Mount Rainier lead to 22-11. Haining whisked herself to the hoop for two, but a Fiso free throw plus a right side trey from Jordan McPhee off a Freeburg assist ballooned the Ram control to 26-13 Inglemoor sailed back to close within six points, but Jordan McPhee's left side trey and a pair of Fiso charity tosses jumped the Rams ahead 31-19 en route to a halftime lead of 31-21.

Mount Rainier was unable to put Inglemoor away in the first half and soon paid the price for keeping the Vikings in range.

The Rams led 33-23 in the third quarter before 6-foot, 2-inch junior forward Julia Haining started to put the hurt into Mount Rainier with her quick whirls to the basket.

Haining started with an inside basket ahead of Brooklyn Walker's two converted free throws. Amber Guillot countered with a right side three-pointer for the Rams. Brittany moved for a quick, stop and pop jump shot from close range to get Mount Rainier back into an 11-point control at 38-27 as 4:42 showed on the clock.

Haining teamed up with Chalayia Fuller to bring the Vikings within 39-36 with 2:57 remaining in the third quarter before Brittany McPhee stole the ball in back court and went the distance for a basket and a 41-36 margin.

Alex Hagen and Fuller joined Haining to tie the score at 41-all with Haining's steal of a rebound for a basket as the tieing points. Amanda Goucher's short range jump shot was countered by a Haining putback as the teams scrambled to the fourth quarter.

"We didn't give No. 10 (Haining) credit (for what she could do)", observed Mount Rainier head coach Bob Bolam. "She killed us in the third quarter."

Haining scored 12 of her team high 19 points in the quarter. Massive 6-foot, 4-inch Deja Strother was saddled with four fouls, but was in the game to rebound and send an outlet pass to streaking Fuller. Strother dominated inside for a basket to give Inglemoor a 47-43 clearance before Brittany McPhee showed signs of stepping up her game with a left handed lay up. Haining poured in four consecutive points for a 51-45 Viking lead.

Two Brittany McPhee free throws and a Fiso follow basket sandwiched around a Strother free throw brought the score to 52-49.

With 3:47 remaining in regulation, Strother fouled out and Brittany McPhee converted two free throws to draw the Rams within 52-51, but the Vikings responded behind Fuller and Haining for four consecutive points to set up the pulsating finish to the much anticipated 9 p.m showdown.
"Our man-to-man defensive pressure helped," concluded Bolam. "We stayed in it for most of the first half and went back to it because we need the pressure to get the ball. It also helped that they didn't make all their free throw chances."

On a night when all contributions were critical, the Rams also had Jordan McPhee scoring 10 points. Other scorers were Aqueelah Williams (3), Amber Guillot (3), Amanda Goucher (2) and Kaiti Freeburg (2).
In addition to Haining, Fuller notched 13 Viking Points.

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