Normally, when you’ve got a few hundred Baptists and Lutherans together in the same place, there’s probably a potluck fellowship about to break out. With all-important seeds to the 1B Tri-Districts on the line, there wasn’t any lineup of casseroles and cold cuts at the Tacoma Baptist gymnasium on Tuesday, Feb. 7. While the teams played each other with some hard-nosed respect, the battles going on were certainly fierce enough to throw the word “fellowship” out the window as well.
The Tacoma Baptist girls entered the game with a perfect 20-0 record and a 1B Sea-Tac League championship underneath their belts. As it often is in basketball ball today, a league title just wasn’t going to be good enough to grab the 1B Sea-Tac’s top-seed to the district tournament. No, a champ is going to have to play another two games, usually against teams they have already beaten once before.
It seemed like the perfect recipe to undo the Crusader girls first undefeated season in school history.
The visiting Mt. Rainier Lutheran Hawks appeared up to the task in the early goings of their contest against Tacoma Baptist, but it wasn’t going to last for long against the only undefeated 1B team in the state of Washington.
It was a rough start for both teams, and it looked as though the first team to regain some solid momentum could very well push out to a solid lead and take control of the game. Playoff jitters are a real thing. Stick around the game long enough and a careful fan and observer may see all of the signs of a team treading upon some undiscovered and unfamiliar territory. This was definitely the case for both teams to start the game.
Had either team shot close to 50-percent in the first quarter, they probably would have carried a 15-point lead into the second quarter. Instead, the basketball was flying all over the gym and not finding the bottom of the basket very often. The teams were throwing everything they had at each other defensively, and it was certainly doing a number on both of their offenses. By the time the teams took a short break at the end of the first quarter, Tacoma Baptist led 12-8 and it truly felt as though it was anybody’s ballgame.
The jitters continued into the second quarter and the eight-minute stanza seemed like a contest as to who could miss more shots. Whether they were close to the basket and surrounded by defenders, or far out on the wings, nothing was falling for either team and the result was actually a positive. It really felt like a playoff game was going down and both teams were throwing haymakers at each other. When the teams hit the locker rooms for halftime, they had mustered just six points for each side and Tacoma Baptist led 18-4.
Sometimes the 10-minute break at halftime does everything for a team, and this was the case for the Crusaders. Head coach Beth Wing successfully calmed her team down and they came out ready to capture the third quarter. While Mt. Rainier hung tough early in the third stanza, closing the score to 23-19 with 3:25 left, the Crusaders turned it up a notch and sped out to a 36-24 advantage going into the final quarter.
The fourth quarter began with Tacoma Baptist taking a 20-point lead at 44-24 on a sweet pass from senior Rachel VanLiew to senior Maddie Kitselman underneath the basket. The lead wouldn’t last though, as Mt. Rainier capitalized on a few Crusader turnovers to roll together nine unanswered points and the Tacoma Baptist lead was now just 44-33.
It looked as though the Hawks would continue to trim the lead as the Crusaders turned the ball over on their next possession. However, this time they were stopped in their tracks as the 6-1 VanLiew blocked a shot at the basket and recovered the ball. The senior finished the one-two punch on the other end scoring through a sea of hands and the Crusader lead was back up to 46-33. The Tacoma Baptist defensive pressure then forced a Hawk turnover and the wind was officially out of the sails for Mt. Rainier Lutheran as they fell to Tacoma Baptist by a score of 48-33.
In the second half of the doubleheader, the Tacoma Baptist boys made short work of Mt. Rainier Lutheran on their way to a 67-51 victory. The Crusaders (14-7) showed very few playoff jitters early and took a tight 26-24 lead into halftime. Tacoma Baptist held the Hawks to just 11 points in the third quarter, while racking up 23 and the game slipped away from Mt. Rainier Lutheran.
Both Tacoma Baptist teams will advance to the 1B Sea-Tac League tournament championship game, set for Saturday, Feb. 11 at an undecided location. With the win, the girls team will host their district opener on Thursday, Feb. 16 at 7 p.m., with another win sending the victors to Spokane for the 1B state tournament. The boys team will have to put two wins together to advance to state.