TACOMA – When Alexia Mefi went down, Joyce Harrell knew she had to step up.
And that’s just what the 6-foot-1 junior did Friday night at the Tacoma Dome to help send the top-ranked Cleveland girls basketball team back to the Class 3A state championship game.
Harrell put together 10 points and 12 rebounds as the Eagles held off No. 5 Bellevue, 53-43.
The Eagles will defend their title at 9 p.m. against No. 6 Bishop Blanchet, which beat No. 8 Wilson of Tacoma in Friday’s late semifinal game.
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Mefi, Cleveland’s 5-11 workhorse inside, went down with a wrist injury midway through the second quarter and didn’t return. She was taken to a medical facility for X-rays and coach Stephenie Wheeler-Smith said she was unsure of Mefi’s status.
“We knew we had to get the ‘W’ for Lexi,” Harrell said. “When one person goes down, we just come out even stronger.”
And the Eagles (26-2) needed all the muscle they could muster to survive a huge night by Bellevue sophomore Shelby Cansler, who piled up 28 points and 15 rebounds.
The 6-foot Cansler said the Wolverines wanted to prove they were better than the showing they gave against Cleveland in the Sea-King District championship game, where they lost 77-49.
“We gave it all our effort and we can’t ask for anything better,” she said.
Cansler scored Bellevue’s final 12 points and 16 of their 22 in the second half. Her final bucket cut what had been a 13-point Cleveland lead to one, 44-43, with 3:31 to play.
But the Eagles cranked up their defense and shut Bellevue out the rest of the way.
MyMy Ladd and Makala Roper scored 14 apiece for Cleveland, but Bellevue coach Noah Wulbert said Harrell was the difference
“She played fantastic tonight,” said Wulbert, a longtime assistant who is serving as acting head coach while Leah Krautter is on maternity live.
Free throws were also key. Cleveland was 25 for 33 at the line compared to Bellevue’s 8 for 11.
Harrell did all of her scoring in the final three quarters.
“It was a matter of her figuring out that she needed to be aggressive inside and that she needed to go to work,” Wheeler-Smith said. “It was a team effort inside and out. We shot poorly (28.3 percent), but we figured out how to win, and an ugly win is better than a pretty loss any day.”
Cleveland has won 52 games in a row against in-state opponents, dating to the final game of the 2012 season. The Eagles are trying to become the first team to win back-to-back 3A championships since Auburn Riverside doubled up in 2007 and ’08. Cleveland also won in 2010.
Bellevue (22-7) will play Wilson to decide third and fifth places Saturday at 11:15 a.m. The Wolverines finished fifth last year after losses to Cleveland and Wilson.
Cansler expects a different outcome this time.
“I know tomorrow we’re going to take third,” she said.
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