Aqeelah Williams leads Eagles with 25 points in 55-48 victory over Braves in Class 3A semifinals.

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TACOMA — The journey hasn’t been easy for Aqeelah Williams.

And she hasn’t arrived at her desired destination just yet.

But she and her Cleveland High School teammates took a big step toward it Friday with a 55-48 victory over Bishop Blanchet to return to the championship game of the Class 3A state girls basketball tournament for the third time.

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The fifth-ranked Eagles (19-8) play No. 2 Lynnwood (24-2) Saturday at 3 p.m. in the Tacoma Dome, looking to become the first girls team in Washington history to capture three consecutive 3A championships.

It would be the first title for Williams, who played at Mount Rainier in Des Moines the previous two seasons after attending Cleveland as a freshman, when the Eagles placed third.

“I want to leave high school with a (championship) ring,” the 5-foot-10 senior guard said.

That desire was apparent early in the fourth quarter as Williams nailed three straight three-pointers to key a 13-0 run that wiped out Blanchet’s 36-32 lead. She finished with 25 points, burying 5 of 9 three-pointers, and was the clear difference in the game, which was a rematch of last year’s title contest.

“Aqeelah shot us out of it,” Blanchet coach Bryan Willison said.

Williams helped Mount Rainier reach the 4A championship game last season and the Rams were in control much of that game before losing to Gonzaga Prep of Spokane. The memory clearly pains her — the loss as well as the change of uniform.

Williams doesn’t like to talk about the past — “Last year is last year,” she says. And she had to go through an eligibility hearing with the WIAA in December before she was granted a hardship waiver to return to play for Cleveland.

“My saying is, ‘It’s a minor setback to a major comeback. It gets greater later,’ ” Williams said. “I’m home now. I’m with my sisters.”

And those sisters know what to do when Williams gets “that look” in her eyes — the one that says she wants the ball and is feeling it.

“When she’s hot, you’ve got to give it her,” point guard Jayde Christopher said.

Williams provided nine points in Cleveland’s opening 13-4 run, then had just one more basket until that torrid fourth quarter.

Blanchet (25-4), which had beaten the Eagles 46-42 in late January, closed out the third period with an 11-1 run to take its first lead of the game. The spurt happened with Cleveland’s 6-2 Joyce Harrell on the bench with a leg cramp. She returned early in the fourth and finished with 13 points and seven rebounds.

“I knew I had to suck it up and I knew I had to play for my team, because they’re my family and I would never let my family down,” Harrell said.

Blanchet’s Jadyn Bush, a 6-foot sophomore, had another big game with 19 points and 10 rebounds, and 5-11 junior Bella Kemp, daughter of Shawn Kemp, enjoyed one of her best nights with 11 points and nine boards. Sophomore guard Taylor Chambers added 10 points.

An inside bucket by Bush cut Cleveland’s lead to 48-44 with 2:27 to go. But Williams shook her defender and drove to the basket and Harrell followed with a steal and bucket as the Eagles pulled back away.

“She’s a special kid,” first-year coach Jamie Redd said of Williams, who plans to play at Eastern Washington next season. “This is the kid I’ve been waiting to show up the whole season. She’s matured. She’s blossomed.”

Cleveland’s return to the championship game seemed in question earlier in the season after league losses to Lakeside, West Seattle and Blanchet, but Redd said the team is peaking at the right time.

And, certainly Aqeelah Williams has arrived.