Falcons get defensive, rally to win Class 3A girls state basketball title
TACOMA — Before, they could only imagine.
Now, they know.
“It’s always been a dream of ours,” Prairie senior Brooke Walling said. “We made it a reality.”
“We’ve been saying we were the best team in the state,” Kendyl Carson added. “Tonight we proved it.”
The Prairie Falcons put on one of the greatest defensive displays in championship game history Saturday in the Tacoma Dome, topping Mt. Spokane 37-35 to win the WIAA Class 3A girls basketball state title.
Walling was 7 for 9 from the floor, including 3 for 3 from 3-point range, and scored 17 points to lead Prairie on offense.
She also had three blocked shots — every one of them big in a two-point game, with scoring at a premium.
But make no mistake, this was a total team defensive effort that held the Wildcats to nine points in the second half.
Going to write it again for emphasis: Nine points in the second half.
Carson took it upon herself to stick with Mt. Spokane’s Aspyn Adams the length of the floor, pretty much the entire second half. If Adams made a move, Carson was there.
Allison Corral picked up a couple steals and was a pest all night to every Wildcat with the ball.
Meri Dunford and Haley Reed brought energy off the bench.
“Best defenders in the state,” senior Cassidy Gardner called them.
If anything, the defensive intensity picked up when they were on the floor. Reed had a couple huge fourth-quarter rebounds.
Oh, yes, rebounds. The Falcons seemed allergic to the ball in the first half. Mt. Spokane had a 21-10 advantage on the boards in the half. The Wildcats had more offensive rebounds than Prairie had total rebounds.
That allowed Mt. Spokane to take a 26-19 lead into halftime.
“Our coaches basically said we had to box out or we weren’t going to win,” Walling said of the halftime instructions. “We found it in ourselves to box out really hard, and then we made our shots on the other end.”
Well, at least enough of those shots went in.
Gardner hit a 3-pointer, then Walling scored off an assist from Gardner, and Walling got an offensive rebound and put-back basket to tie the team with two minutes left in the third quarter. Carson gave Prairie its first lead of the second half, and after a Mt. Spokane basket, Dunford scored to give the Falcons a one-point lead going into the fourth quarter.
The Wildcats would get two more field goals early in the fourth, and then hit a brick wall called the Prairie defense.
The Wildcats went 4 for 26 from the floor in the second half.
All those misses just meant a lot of rebound opportunities. The two teams were all-square in the second half in that department, proving that Prairie really did receive the message: Rebound and win the seventh state title in program history.
“Everyone was willing to sacrifice everything they had on the court on defense,” said senior Mallory Williams, who scored seven points in the title game. “It just shows how bad we wanted it.”
“I’m still just speechless,” Gardner said. “I broke down in tears immediately. I’m definitely the crybaby of the team. I love these girls. There’s no other feeling like this.”
Walling’s bucket with 4:55 left in the fourth quarter was the 12th lead change of the game, giving Prairie a 36-35 advantage. That turned out to be enough. Mt. Spokane went scoreless in the final six minutes, going 0 for 13 from the floor.
Want more defense? Mt. Spokane’s Jayda Noble had 12 points in the first half. She finished the game with 12 points.
Gardner made a free throw with 27 seconds left to make it 37-35. The Wildcats missed on the other end. Prairie got the rebound and was fouled with 4.6 seconds left.
The Falcons missed the front end of a 1-and-1, the Wildcats got the rebound, but the desperation long shot to win was not close.
Celebration time for the Falcons.
“It feels so good and so surreal,” Dunford said. “To be a part of something this big, it’s amazing. Our defense, it’s all team effort. To come together as a team like this? Nothing better than that.”
“It’s just amazing how hard everyone works,” Reed said. “All of us have been dreaming of this since we were little girls. All of our hard work has paid off.”
In fact, many of today’s players were in the Tacoma Dome in 2012, watching Prairie win its sixth state title. Allison Corral was in the fourth grade, watching sister Heather Corral win it all. She also remembers Ashley Corral playing in the dome all four years. Ashley is now an assistant with the Falcons, working for mom, Hala Corral.
“It’s like a second home, some would say,” Allison Corral said of the dome, of Prairie, of basketball.
Now she is a state champion.
“Unexplainable feeling,” Allison said. “Unexplainable.”
But she does know what it means to represent her school.
“It’s an honor to just wear the uniform across my chest,” Allison said. “To go to Prairie, to play basketball for Prairie, it’s an honor every day.”
In the Tacoma Dome locker room, some of the team goals were put on the whiteboard. Win state was No. 1. The second goal was to become the best defensive team in program history. And that’s some incredible history, too.
“It’s all about commitment and buying in,” Hala Corral told her team. “You guys bought in from Day One … Everybody bought in. Everybody cheered for their teammate. Everybody wanted everybody to do good. That’s what a team’s about … That’s why we won. I’m so proud of you.”
Moments after the game, the Falcons were cutting down the nets in the dome, and Williams was holding not just a basketball, but the basketball, the game ball.
“I just took it. I don’t know if I’m supposed to take it, but I just took it,” Williams said.
Better to ask for forgiveness than permission, right?
Walling said she was just so proud of all of her teammates.
“It’s the most amazing feeling in the world,” she said. “I’ve worked my whole life for this.”
Allison Corral walked off the court, claiming that her parents said she could get a dog if the Falcons won a state title. Gardner said she was going to ask her dad for a car.
Carson did not seem to need anything more than that championship feeling.
“I feel a little bit different,” she acknowledged. “I feel a little cool.”
All of the Falcons feel like champions today.
PRAIRIE 37 MT. SPOKANE 35
Prairie — Brooke Walling 17, Mallory Williams 7, Kendyl Carson 4, Cassidy Gardner 4, Allison Corral 3, Meri Dunford 2, Haley Reed 0.
Prairie 11 8 13 5—37
Mt. Spo. 13 13 5 4—35