COVINGTON – It’s just a step along the way, but an important one to the Mount Rainier girls basketball team.
The fifth-ranked Rams clinched at least a share of their third straight SPSL 4A North Division championship Friday night with a 66-42 victory at Kentwood and will no doubt own it outright in the end.
Mount Rainier (14-3, 13-0) is three games up on the second-place Conquerors (11-5, 9-3) with just three to go and has won 50 consecutive division games dating back to the 2010-11 season.
For a team that has placed third at state the past two seasons and is looking to win it all this year, this title might not seem too significant. But that’s not how Brittany McPhee sees it.
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“It still means a lot,” the senior all-star said after piling up 33 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and four steals. “You have to take it step by step. … We try to keep everything in perspective, but obviously the ultimate goal is a lot bigger.”
Kentwood still has big goals, too, but will have to shoot considerably better to achieve them. The Conquerors shot just 21 percent in the first half and just over 25 percent for the game.
“It’s hard to win a game when you shoot like that,” coach Lisa Ashley said.
Kentwood made just 3 of 20 field goals in the first quarter and trailed 11-5 going into the second.
That’s when Sarah Toeaina came to life – and so did the Kentwood crowd. When Toeaina hit a driving basket that gave the Conquerors 10 points, fans erupted. They had been following instructions to be part of a “Silent Night” until the team reached 10.
Toeaina followed with a three-pointer and Kentwood had its first lead of the night, 13-11, as the crowd rocked. It was 18-18 on a putback by Kentwood’s Alycea DeLong with 4:13 to play in the half, but the Conquerors went scoreless the rest of the quarter, missing 10 straight shots.
Mount Rainier pulled away on a 9-0 spurt with seven of those coming from McPhee. The run stretched to 15 to start the third quarter and Kentwood ultimately went more than seven minutes without a field goal. Toeaina was the only Kentwood player in double figures with 21 points.
Emily Fiso helped Mount Rainier’s cause with 16 points.
McPhee said the Rams feel good about the progress they’re making, though the three losses are already more than they endured in either of the past two seasons, which ended 27-2. All three losses have been to ranked teams.
“Better to lose them now than at the end of the season,” McPhee said. “It’s just preparing us for later on, to get a little thicker skin and get a little tougher. And hopefully it’s helping.”
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