South Kitsap girls basketball looks to break state drought

South Kitsap's girls basketball team is one win away from its first state-playoff appearance in nine years.

Behind a game-high 18 points from Molly Werder, the Wolves earned a 43-36 win in a loser-out West Central District Tournament playoff game Tuesday against Puyallup at Mount Tahoma High School.

"The kids didn't want to go home," South coach Mark Lutzenhiser said. "I think that's the main thing."

South (14-11) plays at 6 p.m. Thursday against Jefferson, which defeated Rogers 53-52 Tuesday in overtime, at Auburn High School. The winner earns the district's No. 5 seed into the following week's Class 4A state tournament at the Tacoma Dome.

The Wolves led most of the game as the Vikings (13-11) converted just 1 of 14 field-goal attempts in the opening quarter. Puyallup's only points in the first period came when Lazara Balcena hit a shot with 3:12 minutes left. South took an 8-2 advantage into the second quarter and held a 16-10 lead at halftime. Werder had six points in the first half.

"She's been our scorer all year long," Lutzenhiser said. "Puyallup did a good job in its zone ... but she's so lanky she can shoot over most kids."

But the Vikings opened the second half on a 6-0 run that culminated with a 10-foot jumper by guard Heidi Boettcher to tie the game, 16-all. The lead shifted three times before another field goal by Boettcher gave Puyallup its largest lead, 30-25, with six minutes left in the game.

"We were dumbfounded as to why we were in that situation," Werder said. "We knew that we could drive and earn more fouls."

That's when the Wolves went inside.

Werder, a 6-foot-2 junior, made a pair of free throws and Angel Sheldon, a 6-foot senior, split her shots at the line to get South within two. Chelnesha Thuring then hit a 12-foot shot from the baseline to tie the game, 30-all, with 3:40 left.

"That was a clutch shot," Lutzenhiser said. "That's one of those where the coach is thinking, 'Well, I don't know ... we can get a better shot.' But she has a nice looking shot and is confident."

The Wolves didn't relent from that point. Werder regained the lead for the final time on a shot near the free-throw line, and Thuring found Tori Fairweather open for an uncontested layup that gave South a 34-30 edge with 2:20 remaining.

After Puyallup was unable to get a shot off before the 35-second clock expired, Osterdahl found Fairweather cutting toward the basket. She was fouled and split her free throws to extend the Wolves' lead to 35-30 with 1:37 left.

"I think that's just us looking out for each other and making each other look good," Fairweather said. "That's what a team does to win a game."

Thuring later converted 1 of 2 free throws before Vikings guard Lauren Picha scored a layup to cut Puyallup's deficit to 36-32 with 51 seconds remaining. It was the first points by the Vikings in more than five minutes.

Lutzenhiser said his team's defense against Picha was significant. She led Puyallup with 14 points and made two 3-pointers, but that was below her average of 16.3 points per game entering the contest. He wanted his team to made sure Picha wasn't getting open shots by rotating defenders on her, and the plan was successful for the most part.

"That was our key," he said. "The kids executed everything we wanted defensively. They made them work for everything."

The Vikings were forced to foul at that point and South converted 7 of 10 free throws in the final 45 seconds to secure the victory.

It was a much different scenario than the Wolves' 53-52 loss against Mount Tahoma when Thunderbirds guard Keana Magalei made two of three throws with no time left Feb. 13 in the first round of districts. South converted just 3 of 12 free throws late in that game.

"We were out for blood the last few games," Fairweather said. "I kind of feel bad for the teams we had to face. All that adrenaline kind of helped us beat these last few teams."

West Central District Tournament

Loser-out game at Mount Tahoma High School

South Kitsap 43, Puyallup 36

South Kitsap 8 8 9 18 — 43

Puyallup 2 8 12 14 — 36

South Kitsap — Kelsey Callaghan 2, Stephanie Osterdahl 7, Danielle Stewart 0, Ashlee Stoner 0, Chelnesha Thuring 5, Tori Fairweather 8, Ashley Frank 0, Angel Sheldon 3, Molly Werder 18.

Puyallup — Lauren Picha 14, Lazara Balcena 2, Hayleigh White 0, Heidi Boettcher 8, Regen Picha 0, Abbie Galusha 2, Mandy Malkuch 8, Justine Berry 0.

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