(REPORT #1 with postgame-celebration video is here)
(League MVP Lydia Giomi)
Story by Tracy Record
Photos by Patrick Sand
West Seattle Blog co-publishers
It was the kind of game that left spectators as breathless as the players whose battle they had just witnessed.
The Metro League girls-basketball title game won by West Seattle High School over Cleveland was as close throughout as the 49-48 final score implied.
Playing at the Seattle Pacific University gym in north Queen Anne, Cleveland led for much of the game but never threatened to run away with it. WSHS opened its biggest lead toward the game’s end but Cleveland – last year’s state champion – fought back to within one and had the ball when time ran out. The defense was intense from start to finish, and that led to more than a few foul shots for both sides – 13 of the Wildcats’ 49 points came from the free-throw line.
West Seattle’s first scoring came on a 3-pointer by senior Annalisa Ursino about a third of the way through the first quarter, and that tied the score 3-3. Cleveland answered with one of its own to restore its three-point lead. And so it went. WSHS’s first lead came with just over 2 minutes to go in the first quarter, 9-8 after a basket by senior Emily Fiso (above), the Wildcats’ #2 scorer of the night with 12 points in all.
That was the only time WSHS led during the first half.
Cleveland subsequently went on a seven-point run, closing out the first quarter ahead 15-9. That was the biggest lead either team had during the game, and a three-pointer by the top WSHS scorer of the night, junior Lexi Ioane (above center) with 14, cut it in half shortly after the second quarter began.
Sophomore Izzy Turk (above) followed with her lone basket of the night, and Cleveland called time out with its lead down to one point, 15-14. Two unanswered baskets widened it to 19-14, and then WSHS started catching up via successful foul shots, two by senior Lydia Giomi, then two by Ioane, trimming the Eagles’ lead to one point, briefly.
After a jump ball at 2:42 remaining, the remainder of the half was almost as head-swivel-inducing as tennis, an especially rapid-fire series of down-the-court-and-back.
The sole basket by junior Lani Taylor (above) took the Eagles back down to a two-point lead, which they expanded to 4 shortly thereafter. A foul called on Giomi drew boos from the fans; the first shot of a potential 1-and-1 was fruitless, and WSHS got the ball back for senior Charli Elliott to make her first and only basket of the night, ending the first half 24-22.
The second half began in even more see-saw fashion. WSHS tied it up twice at 24-all and then 26-all, before their second lead of the night, at 28-26. More lead-trading ensued until West Seattle’s biggest lead thus far – three points – arrived with a minute to go in the third quarter. That didn’t hold either, and Cleveland was ahead 36-35 as the quarter ended.
By that point, it seemed as if winning would just be a matter of whether your turn to lead the game was in effect when the clock ran out. So the fourth quarter dawned with a sense of the heightened stakes. Cleveland scored first. But after a few run-and-gun minutes, the turning point: Two baskets by Fiso (above) in the span of about half a minute. That put WSHS ahead for good, 40-38, though given the way the preceding three and a half quarters had gone, that was not a foregone conclusion at the time.
Elliott (above) wrangled the ball away shortly thereafter but missed two shots, part of a frustrating series of misses as possessions were traded, until Fiso was fouled by Cleveland star Joyce Harrell. Fiso sank both foul shots, and that took WSHS out to a four-point lead for the first time – shortlived thanks to a Cleveland three-pointer.
Next to score – Fiso, again, on an assist from Ioane. 44-41. Less than three minutes to go. Cleveland then cut the WSHS lead to one point, again. Then for the first time in the fourth quarter, someone other than Fiso scored – it was Ioane.
Cleveland missed its next try and Ursino ran the ball back down, missing a shot with about a minute and a half to go, but getting fouled intentionally, which gave her two shots to be followed by WSHS possession. One went in, one didn’t. 47-43. Cleveland basket. Two-point lead again. Only a bit more than a minute remaining. Either victory or defeat could be in reach.
The final WSHS basket ensured the former. And, again, it was Fiso (10 of her 12 points were in that final quarter).
But Cleveland wasn’t giving up. The top-scoring Eagle, Aqeelah Williams (16 points on the night), nailed a three-pointer. The four-point WSHS lead was down to one. And more dangerous, just one more Eagle bucket would put them in the lead. Time for see-sawing was running out. But there was no way to just hang onto the ball and run off the clock, either. Heart-poundingly, Cleveland got the ball back in what theoretically could have been enough time to score a winning basket .. but didn’t … and the fans erupted in shrieks and ran down to the court to join the celebration of a 49-48 victory.
That celebration included multiple phases: Trophy presentation, then cutting down the net … in which just about everyone on the team took a turn on the ladder, cutting one loop, until Coach Elliott held the detached net aloft … as had league MVP Giomi a short time earlier:
And of course, the post-game photo ops. Even one with Lexi Ioane’s little brother Koby (seated in front):
But the WSHS women don’t just walk … or run … into the sunset to savor this win. Next up: The district tournament. Their first game is at 6:30 pm Tuesday in the Chief Sealth IHS gym (2600 SW Thistle), against the winner of tonight’s Bishop Blanchet vs. Garfield game.
SUNDAY NOTE: Blanchet won that game, so that’s who the Wildcats will face.