The senior point guard put the No. 5 Eagles on her back, scoring 15 of her 16 points during an eight-minute span that put the game against Wilson within reach. Cleveland went on to take a 53-50 victory.
TACOMA – Jayde Christopher looked at the scoreboard and decided this was not happening.
Her Cleveland team was all out of sorts, trailing Wilson of Tacoma by 14 points early in the second quarter. Chances of a third consecutive title at the 3A state tournament seemed slight.
“I was like, ‘Oh yeah, we’ve got to do something,’ ” Christopher said.
The senior point guard put the No. 5 Eagles on her back, scoring 15 of her 16 points during an eight-minute span that put the game within reach. Christopher’s final field goal, a driving bucket with 4:07 left in the third period, closed the gap to four points.
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From there, Aqeelah Williams and Myla Hightower took control and Cleveland went on win 53-50.
The Eagles (18-8) play Metro rival Bishop Blanchet (24-6) in the semifinals Friday at 3:45 p.m. It’s a rematch of the championship game last year, which Cleveland won 54-45.
Blanchet, which advanced with a 67-44 win over No. 9 Arlington, beat Cleveland 46-42 earlier this season.
The Eagles were late to warm up for the 9 a.m. opener after being called back for a team photo. And an incorrect entry in the score book cost them a technical to start the game. They hit just one of their first 16 shots and fell behind 20-6. It appeared this would finally be the year Wilson (21-5) got the better of them after defeats in each of the previous three seasons.
But then Christopher took control.
“She played a phenomenal game,” Wilson coach Michelle Birge said.
Williams, who had missed all five of her shots in the first half, finally heated up and scored 10 of the Eagles’ 12 points that put them in front 44-43 with 4:51 to play. The Rams regained the lead on a bucket by Kiki Knox, one of two Wilson players to post double-doubles (she had 14 points, 15 rebounds, while Kapri Morrow finished with 17 and 13).
Then Hightower got into the act, posting a pair of putbacks to spark Cleveland’s 9-5 finish.
“She came through big,” coach Jamie Redd said. “She’s a relentless kid.”
Hightower said she was inspired by a pregame speech by former assistant coach Derrick Wheeler-Smith, who told the story of David and Goliath and preached the power of belief.
Some might consider Cleveland more Goliath than David, but Hightower said the team feels like an underdog.
“It always seems like people never want us to win,” she said. “They didn’t want us to win last year, back to back, and certainly no one wants us to get a three-peat, but as long as we have our inner circle and work together, we’ll be fine.”
Even if it takes a while to get on track.
“I’m really impressed by how hard we fought,” Hightower said, “because there were a couple of moments in the game where I was really worried.”