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Confidence propels Wolves to rare state berth
Hitting the winning combination on a Lotto ticket seemed like a better prospect last week than South Kitsap earning its first state appearance since 2000.
After all, the Wolves girls basketball game needed to win three games through the West Central District's consolation bracket after losing the tournament opener at Auburn Riverside by 40 points.
But South won its way to next week's Class 4A state tournament through confidence rather than luck with a 45-39 victory Thursday against Jefferson at Auburn High School.
"We got down and fought back," said South coach Mark Lutzenhiser, whose team beat Shelton and Puyallup to advance to the winner-to-state, loser-out game. "We've been doing that since the Auburn Riverside game. They were just determined not to lose."
The Wolves (15-11), who earned the No. 5 seed out of districts into Wednesday's first-round state game, trailed by 10 points with 1:31 minutes left in the third quarter. But South cut its deficit in half, 33-28, entering the fourth quarter as Kelsey Callaghan hit a 3-pointer and Tori Fairweather followed with a pair of free throws as Raiders fans screamed in the background.
"That's ammo," Fairweather said. "I just want to make them even more."
It wasn't until there was just 3:55 remaining when the Wolves finally took the lead for good. That's when Callaghan hit a 3-pointer to give her team a 39-36 edge.
"That was a clutch shot," Lutzenhiser said. "I think she knew things were stagnant, and to make that decision was a very mature thing to do."
Jefferson (16-8), which hasn't advanced to state since 2003, responded as Unique Taufa'asau scored on a layup from Hannah Kiyohara to close its deficit to one point. But that's as close as the Raiders would get as Fairweather made four free throws and Stephanie Osterdahl scored on a layup. The Raiders' only points in the final three minutes came on a free throw by Stacey Albrecht.
"We like to be down and come back for that kill at the end," Callaghan said. "We love to perform at the end when it counts."
Fairweather, who scored a team-high 12 points, converted 6 of 7 free throws. Half of those points came in the first quarter, including a 10-foot jumper with three seconds left that pulled South into a tie, 12-all, entering the second quarter.
"It's the best I've seen her play," Lutzenhiser said. "She hit some clutch free throws and shots. She was driving to the basket and drawing fouls. And she worked hard on the defensive end."
There was a significant free-throw disparity at halftime — the Raiders converted 11 of 14 attempts from the line, while South split its four shots — and Lutzenhiser credited Fairweather for helping the team change its mentality in the second half. The Wolves were 8 of 13 from the line in the final 16 minutes, while Jefferson was 3 of 6.
"I'm just so glad to have her on my team," Lutzenhiser said. "She's an incredible athlete and an even bigger competitor. She probably would arm-wrestle you for a Twinkie."
Fairweather is one of two seniors, along with guard Samantha Gulisao, who played on the 2006-07 team that finished 2-17. She said believes this group has been successful because of its chemistry, along with the development of junior post Molly Werder and Callaghan, a sophomore point guard, in addition to the 10 seniors.
"What a difference," Fairweather said. "Now we're going to state."
South is the third program Lutzenhiser has guided to state. In his only season at Bellingham in 1988-89, he led the Red Raiders to state for the first time ever. Three years later, Lutzenhiser took Wenatchee to its only state appearance in school history.
But he said former coach Mike Allen and assistants Tammy Helwig and Greg Johnson deserve most of the credit for the Wolves' achievements. Both Helwig and Johnson were assistants under Allen, who resigned after eight seasons to spend more time with his family.
"I come here and look like a genius, but I'm not," Lutzenhiser said. "I just have a good group of kids who are already there and they're willing to buy into what I'm willing to teach."
With one objective accomplished, Lutzenhiser has given his team another to focus on.
"I told them, 'Let's set another goal,' " he said. 'Let's get some hardware.' "
West Central District Tournament
Winner to state, loser out
South Kitsap 45, Jefferson 39
South Kitsap 12 9 7 17 — 45
Jefferson 12 10 11 6 — 39
South Kitsap — Kelsey Callaghan 10, Samantha Gulisao 2, Stephanie Osterdahl 8, Danielle Stewart 0, Ashlee Stoner 5, Chelnesha Thuring 0, Tori Fairweather 12, Angel Sheldon 2, Molly Werder 6.
Jefferson — Keely Nelson-Rivers 3, Hannah Kiyohara 13, Samantha Pham 2, Ariel Holman 4, Unique Taufa'asau 12, Stacey Albrecht 3, Karen Carpenter 2.