Five genuine standouts who helped drive Mount Baker and Meridian to the Class 1A state girls basketball tournament last season showed they seem better than ever.
But a lesser-known, but pressure-tested senior played about as perfect a fourth quarter as any team could ask to make the difference in Meridian’s 62-56 non-league win over defending state champion Mount Baker on Thursday.
Tanis Harrison, a 5-foot-10 senior guard/forward, delighted Trojans coach Mark Gilmore with her obviously determined defense against 6-foot senior McKenzie Yost. Harrison limited Yost to five field-goal attempts and seven points two nights after Yost scored 20 in Baker’s 66-57 opening loss to Nooksack.
“Tanis played just great defense,” said Gilmore, whose Trojans came off an impressive 53-37 opening win over Ferndale.
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Yost, however, displayed the type of focus that helped the Mountaineers prevail at state for their first title. She finished with a game-high 15 rebounds.
In the fourth quarter, Harrison grabbed seven rebounds and scored six points, going 2 for 2 from the field and 2 for 2 from the line with a pair of free throws for a clinching 60-56 lead with 12.5 seconds left.
“I’ve never had seven rebounds in the fourth quarter,” Harrison said. “We’re off to a good start.”
The highly entertaining game was tight throughout, as Baker guard Haylee Malone shot 9 for 12 to finish with a game-high 21 points and fellow junior backcourt teammate Danielle Tyler scored 17.
Baker no longer has 6-foot-6 Stephanie Soares, who is back playing for a club in Brazil after a season with the Mountaineers, or forward Kylind Powell, who has moved to Shelton.
For Meridian, Kyrin Baklund scored 19 points and displayed her leadership and experience in the final quarter with four points, three rebounds and three assists – all seemingly vital in leading the Trojans back from a 47-41 deficit early in the fourth period.
Fellow senior guard Ellesse Fitzgerald scored five key points in the fourth quarter and finished with eight. Sophomore post Jolee Sipma hit three consecutive hoops in the final period and wound up with nine points.
A key stat
One of the most interesting aspects of the battle was how Meridian’s senior-laden depth – the Trojans have six seniors back from their first state tournament team in 14 years, plus four non-seniors – made such a huge difference.
Baklund and Fitzgerald combined for 27 points, but the other eight girls who played amassed 35 points. Baker, with only three seniors, displayed the potential to develop similar depth, giving the Mountaineers a seemingly strong shot to return to state.
“I definitely agree with that,” Baker coach Kim Preston said, talking about the girls who will need to develop to provide the help Tyler, Malone and Yost will need. “Meridian returned a lot of kids who have played a lot (under pressure). We’re really trying to learn our identity.”
“We have great depth,” Gilmore said. “We made a key adjustment when we went from our man defense to a zone in the last four minutes of the fourth quarter.”
Baklund shows spirit
Baklund, like Tyler and Malone, consistently turns in a whirlwind show in the backcourt.
“We haven’t played to the best of our ability – yet,” Baklund said.