TACOMA — The smile crept across Emily Petro’s face as she stepped backward from the free-throw line. Her eyes were on the rim at the Tacoma Dome, where the ball she’d just shot bounced around, off the backboard and finally fell through.
It was just the Seattle Prep senior guard’s second point of the night — the second of two free throws she’d made with 1 minute 11 seconds left in the Panthers’ first-round Class 3A state tournament game on Wednesday evening.
But they were huge points.
Those free throws extended No. 10 Seattle Prep’s lead to five points, making it a two-possession game, in what became a hard-fought 43-36 win over the No. 7 Lincoln Abes.
“She’s a senior,” Seattle Prep coach Brian Elsner said. “She had 20 against Juanita (in the regional round, another loser-out game). Seniors have to play like seniors. I think they just don’t want their season to be over.”
Seattle Prep’s season is not over. Lincoln finished its year at 19-7.
The Panthers (21-8) advance to play top-ranked Eastside Catholic (25-1) in a quarterfinal at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday. That game, unlike most of Seattle Prep’s recent schedule, will not be win or go home. Wednesday’s loser-out win was the fifth in six games for the Panthers.
“It’s kind of fun,” Prep junior Molly Moffitt said. “I love a little pressure. We win together, and we lose together. We all just want to go as far as we can with our seniors.”
Moffitt and fellow junior Tamia Stricklin came up big against Lincoln. After the Abes had come back from a seven-point halftime deficit to tie the game at 30-30 after three quarters, Moffitt and Stricklin combined for eight of Seattle Prep’s first nine points of the fourth quarter to get the Panthers back in front.
Moffitt’s final points of her game-high, 22-point night, came with 1:45 to go and extended the Panthers lead to 39-36. Stricklin added 12 points, while senior Marie Hauck had 10 rebounds.
This one was close throughout, even after Seattle Prep rolled off the final eight points of the first half to turn a 17-16 deficit into a 24-17 lead at the break.
Lincoln put its own 8-0 run together over the second half of the third quarter to grab a brief 30-28 lead. Stricklin scored with 19 seconds left in the quarter to forge the tie heading into the final eight minutes.
“It felt like every basket was intentional,” Elsner said. “We used our timeouts to get chances.”
While Sharayah Johnson was scoring six of her team-high 12 points to keep the Abes close, the Panthers ran plays to get their scorers the ball. Johnson’s three fourth-quarter baskets got Lincoln within one point each time at 33-32, 35-34 and finally at 37-36 with 2:12 to play.
But when Johnson missed the free throw that would have completed a three-point play on the last opportunity, the Panthers got a timeout and a play that got Moffitt her last layup for that 39-36 lead.
What now awaits, Elsner said, is an opportunity. Seattle Prep played the No. 1 Crusaders back on January 17 and lost, 52-42.
“We’re excited to play Eastside Catholic,” Elsner said. “It was a really close game last time. They’re No. 1 in the state for a reason. They are really good. But we want to play the best teams in the state. Let’s go.”