Lincoln got a rude introduction in its first state-tournament appearance in eight years. Cleveland raced out to a huge lead and coasted over the Lady Abes in their opener, and Lincoln was unable to catch up with Sunnyside the following day to be eliminated in the 3A girls state basketball tournament on March 6-7 at the Tacoma Dome.
Still, it was a welcome experience for a building program that notched 20 wins in its first year under head coach Jamila Jones.
“It has been a great year, from a foundation standpoint,” Jones said. “We wanted to leave with some hardware…but I think it’s a learning experience. To play at this level at the Tacoma Dome, you have to have a certain level of experience and basketball savvy to you.”
From the start against Cleveland – the eventual state champs – the Lady Abes were flustered by pressure defense and a speedy transition offense. The Eagles charged out to a 12-0 lead midway through the first quarter on a steal and layup by Makala Roper, who finished with a game-high 19 points. With sophomore forward Tamia Braggs stuck on the bench in early foul trouble, Lincoln struggled to find a consistent source of offense, and Roper hit back-to-back threes late in the first quarter to extend the Eagles’ lead to 26-6. Cleveland coasted from there.
The Lady Abes brought much more energy and efficiency on March 7 against Sunnyside, but a 10-point first-quarter lead helped the Grizzlies create some space in a 67-54 win to eliminate Lincoln.
Breneya Johnson’s rebound and put-back less than three minutes into the game tied it at 9-9, but Sunnyside went on a 13-3 run to end the quarter, as Natalia Bazan’s jumper with five seconds left in the period made it 22-12. The Grizzlies led 38-26 at the break, and Emilee Maldonado – who finished with a team-high 19 points – extended it to 41-28 with a three-pointer two minutes into the third quarter.
But Braggs came alive in the second half, pulling the Lady Abes back to within 44-38 with two free throws in the final minute of the third quarter. Braggs scored 16 points in the second half, but it wasn’t enough, as Sunnyside had an answer every time Lincoln made a charge. Braggs finished with 25 points and eight rebounds and Johnson added 13 points and nine rebounds, as the duo finished a combined 14-for-26 from the field.
“I think we did well once we got the ball inside,” Jones said.
Despite the bitter finish, Jones and the Lady Abes can take solace knowing that Braggs, junior guard Kiaira Thomas and sophomore guard Aamira Turner all return next year.