BOTHELL - Ferndale's Taryn Knutson, Hannah Carlson and Linsey Honeycutt nailed more than a second-half blizzard of baskets to send them to the Class 3A State Girls' Regionals for the first time.
They also nailed down the reason for their second-half brilliance in the Golden Eagles' 58-47 win over Marysville-Pilchuck in the most tension-packed situation in basketball: winner to state, loser out.
"I think we realized we did not want to be remembered for playing that way," said Carlson, stressing "that" as though it had suddenly become a nasty four-letter word, as Knutson and Honeycutt shook their heads in agreement while a large contingent of Ferndale fans celebrated in delirious fashion.
"That way" was a dismal 16-point first half, beginning with a four-point first quarter, in the third-place game of the Class 3A Northwest District Tournament on Saturday, Feb. 22, at Lynnwood High School.
The potent front-line trio combined for nine consecutive baskets before their first miss of the third quarter as they rallied from a 21-16 halftime deficit to a 40-34 lead going into the fourth quarter. But they didn't let up for a second while racing to a 50-37 advantage halfway through the final period.
Knutson, a senior who scored a career-high 22 points on 9-for-17 shooting, had no trouble explaining why the trio combined for 41 points on 16-for-24 shooting in the second half compared with 5-for-13 shooting and only 16 points in the first half.
"We finally realized we just had to get pumped," said Knutson, who was the first to do so. Late in the second quarter, she drove hard for three consecutive baskets in less than two minutes, as though telling her teammates a thing or two about "getting pumped."
The Eagles also had to stop probing tentatively against Marysville's four 6-foot senior starters and just go flying into the basket with good passes from each other along with Ferndale guards Abby Reid and Brooke Benson, both of whom played outstanding floor games and defense in the second half.
"We just weren't playing up to our potential and we fully realized that at halftime," Knutson said.
At halftime, they said they listened to calm advice from Ferndale coach Mike Ivy along with leadership from Benson, yet another senior along with the irrepressible Knutson and the calm Carlson, who contributed 18 points on 7 for 12 shooting plus a game-high seven assists.
"Brooke kept reminding us it was only five points," said Knutson, talking about the team's halftime deficit.
Knutson added this praise for Benson, whose free throw with 32 seconds left clinched the win at 56-47 and provided the only point not scored by Knutson, Carlson and Honeycutt.
"Brooke has been awesome on defense and she's been so positive all season," Knutson said. "Before she reminded us we were only five points down, it felt like 50!"
Carlson couldn't quite believe that the Golden Eagles - 19-5 this season and 38-8 over two seasons - had at long last escaped their seemingly annual district trap.
"It's hard to believe," Carlson said, talking about the two frustrating losses that ended her previous three seasons on the varsity. "We're finally going to state!"
Ivy said he knew exactly why.
"Special senior leadership by all three of our seniors," said Ivy, in his fifth season. "There's just no doubt about it. Words just can't do justice to how I feel about going to state with this team."
Honeycutt, the 5-foot-11 junior post who has attracted the interest of several colleges, turned in a superb all-around game with 17 points on 6 for 10 shooting from the field and 5 for 6 from the line, plus 11 rebounds, five assists, three steals and two blocks.
"I think our seniors just played great," Honeycutt said. "I'm going to miss them so much. They wanted to win so bad."
There was only one Marysville player Honeycutt could not defend: 5-foot-4 senior guard Amanda Klep, who kept the Tomahawks in the game with three 3-pointers in each half, including three off the glass, and three from professional distance. Klep finished with 22 points.
Reid, a 5-foot-5 junior, was all over the court all the time, seemingly a whirlwind of rebounding despite her size. She finished with eight rebounds, four assists and two steals. Benson had six rebounds and two assists.
Freshman guard Darrien Camarillo and juniors Shelby Slaughter, Carly Bannerman and Dasia Washington all provided important relief off the bench.
"We really settled down in the second half," said Ivy, who on Sunday, Feb. 23, will learn his opponent and site for the regionals the weekend of Feb. 28 and March 1. "We had 14 turnovers in the first half, but only about five in the second half. The girls just played so well."
Ferndale became the fifth Whatcom County girls' team among the 11 total to qualify for the state regionals.
Honeycutt was whistled for her third foul with 5:20 left in the third quarter, but Ivy gambled on keeping her in and she displayed remarkable poise while lasting the rest of the game.