Mount Rainier rocks Inglemoor
By Gerardo Bolong
TACOMA - Zero hour in Tacoma struck well for the Mount Rainier Rams on Thurs., March 6, at the 2014 Class 4A girls Hardwood Classic state basketball tournament.
Utilizing a swarming defense and a nearly unrelenting transition game, Mount Rainier exacted deadly vengeance on Inglemoor for a 15 point loss in January at the ShoWare Center in Kent by running the Vikings into the ground before holding off a desperation fourth quarter Inglemoor charge in a 64-57 quarterfinal win that sent it into a semifinal Friday conflict with Moses Lake as part of the Final Four contingent of the high school March Madness..
"Everyone played well," Mount Rainier head coach Bob Bolam stressed. "If we're going to win it (the state title), we need everyone playing well and I thought today we had that.That was nice to see."
After Brittany McPhee's 3-pointer gave the Rams a 10-9 first quarter lead, Mount Rainier kept the lead for duration. McPhee continued by posting a two points on an athletic, twisting underhand scoop shot ahead of two free throws. Emily Fiso nailed a straight up 3-pointer for a 17-9 command as the Rams began their domination.
Aqeelah Williams downed a 3-point rainbow to stretch the command to 23-11 as the second quarter began, but bruising, six-foot, four-inch post Deja Strother steamrolled inside for five consecutive points to pull the Vikings within 23-16. Freeberg set up on the right side for a 3-pointer.
After Inglemoor pulled close at 26-21 Williams derailed the Viking rally with another 3-pointer and the Rams lead was never less than six points again.
Leading 37-28 at halftime on a Jordan McPhee runner at the buzzer, the Rams led only 39-33 early in the third quarter when Williams grabbed an offensive rebound ahead of her 10-foot jump shot to keep Inglemoor away and start a Mount Rainier eruption that would eventually keep Inglemoor off the mountain top. Behind the workmanlike efforts of Fiso, Williams and Brittany McPhee, the Rams ran to daylight in a 13-0 offensive burst that created a 52-33 lead and a 52-35 margin after three quarters. Mount Rainier's pressure defense hounded the Vikings into 21 turnovers that turned into transition jaunts regularly.
Following a Brittany McPhee to Fiso basket, the Rams led 59-42 with 6:28 left in regulation before Strother was able to get the ball inside for six consecutive points.
Brittany McPhee was fouled while shooting inside the foul line and converted a pair of Ram free throws followed by Fiso's corner 2-pointer to build the lead up to 63-48 with 3:15 showing. Fiso finished with 13 points.
With their foes on the edge of oblivion, the Rams started to miss easy field goal chances. Making its opponent pay dearly, Inglemoor used six Strother inside points with a Jordana Price 3-point basket to draw within 63-57 with 18.2 seconds left. Jordan McPhee was fouled four seconds later and converted the second shot of a double bonus for the final game tally.
"Obviously, in the fourth quarter we couldn't stop her," said Bolam about Strother and her 12 final quarter points. "That was tough. We were saying, Use the clock, use the clock.' Thank God we had enough points to use the clock."
Despite the closing pressure, Brittany McPhee still had a positive philosophy at that point.
"We were ahead by six," she simply said
More pressure on the perimeter shooters who burned them in the 68-53 loss at ShoWare and better physical condition in the end, part of which was judicious use of reserves induced in part to foul trouble, preserved any possibilty of Mount Rainier running out of gas as they did in the first encounter against Inglemoor.
Mount Rainier tried to front Strother with six-footer Brittany McPhee who also helped the defense in keeping the ball away from Strother by picking off passes into the inside. When she got into early foul trouble, six-foot southpaw Fiso switched into the task trying to contain Strother.
With this strategy in effect to pressure the outside shooters, the only double figures scorer to augment Strother was Mackenzie Gardner at 14. Besides scoring 24 game points Strother 18 caroms.
Two solid defenders who are x-factors on offense in different ways prominently figured themselves into the successful offensive equation.
Aqeelah Williams normally shoots a low percentage from outside, but has stretches where she drains key baskets. On this afternoon, she found enough rhythm, especially in the first half to help the offensive arsenal against the drawn-in Viking zone.
"I made one out of my first five shots, but I felt confidence," said Williams. "My team supports me and teamwork makes the dream work."
For her part, Williams closed out the game with 15 points - 11 in the first half - to keep the Vikings from catching a strong wind that would sail them into the lead.
On the other hand, Kaiti Freeberg often needs encouragement to be more offensive minded.
"I was open and I have the support of my teammates, she said. "My team backs me up and gives me confidence."
Freeberg scored her entire five points in the first half on a rare three-pointer and an outside 10-footer as another component to keep Inglemoor in arrears.
The Vikings bench was an important factor in the first quarter, but managed only two points for this game.
With Moses Lake (21-4) as its semifinal rival, Mount Rainier (24-3) will now clear the only obstacle that has stopped them in previous seasons: the semifinal challenge. Following two consecutive losses in the semis by a total of three points, the Ram resolve is stronger than ever.
"We've been dreaming about this since last year," said Jordan McPhee who earned a dozen points while running the offense. "We've been preparing for this all year, and it's good to finally be here."
Twin sister and Stanford-bound Brittany McPhee who scored nine first quarter points on the way to 19 game points with eight rebounds and three blocked shots had super strong feelings about the final chance to obliterate the last obstacle.
"We used it (the loss to Inglemoor that led to a dozen wins in a row) as a learning point," she said. "We studied the film. We knew what we did wrong and came out with a game plan that worked really well."
Extra bonding from their three losses to top teams also contributed to the total package that got the Rams into this season's semifinal stand.
"The losses made us closer as a team," she concluded. "We knew we were going to have to work together and use each other, not just try to go one on one. Those losses made us re-evaluate each other and say, 'Hey, we're in this together.' "