It all came down to a rivalry game on Valentine’s Day between Kentridge and Kentwood high school girls basketball teams in the second round of the West Central District playoffs.
“With it being an in-city rivalry it’s already going to be competitive,” said Kentridge Coach Brad McDowell.
Kentridge traveled to Kentwood and came out with the win 54-49 over the Conquerors on Feb. 14.
“It’s big because it shows the improvements we have made. We had some losses early in the season but picked it up and I think it shows,” said junior Sydney Esperanza.
Coming into the contest, the two teams had only played each other once this season; Kentwood won won earlier this month by four points.
“Kentwood is a team that has given us match-up problems before. We did everything we possibly could to win that game. And the kids did great,” said McDowell.
This match-up had a little bit more on the line than bragging rights — the loser’s season would come to a close and the winner would earn two chances to reach the state tournament.
Kentridge came into the game off of a two-point win against Puyallup but hadn’t necessarily played well, only winning two of their last four games. Kentwood on the other hand lost their opening-round game against Emerald Ridge. But up until that loss, the team had won four games in a row.
The game started out all Kentwood as they jumped out to a quick 10-point lead, seemingly right when the game started Kentridge was already down double figures. The Chargers didn’t blink and the comeback was made easier by the closeness of the Chargers.
“It wasn’t as difficult as you think because all my teammates are super supportive … So we really just one person needed to make a bucket then after that it was smooth sailing,” Esperanza said.
The Chargers battled, and by the end of the first quarter they had gotten the game to within two only trailing 14-12.
The second quarter set the tone for the rest of the game, it was an extremely physical and emotional game on both sides. Kentwood, the more veteran team, showed its experience and wasn’t allowing Esperanza any breathing room holding her to just eight points in the first half.
Esperanza finished with 17 points and a handful of rebounds, her effort should be seen as how every player should play the game.
“I feel like my effort helps lead the team because once one person starts hustling everyone follows. So not only does it motivate myself but my teammates as well,” she said.
At halftime, the game was tied 25-25. The Conquerors struggled to score in that second quarter totaling nine points.
Throughout the third quarter, it seemed Kentwood found its groove. Their star player sophomore Jessica Ajayi started to take over scoring the most points of any player on the floor in the third.
“I have to think about how to coach against her … Jessica is so talented, she’s a sophomore that could lead the league in many categories,” McDowell said.
Kentwood entered the final period up 37-35, personal fouls had been a pattern all night for both teams. In the first half, there were 17 combined fouls and in the fourth, both teams were in the double bonus.
Kentridge shot free throws at an 80% clip in the fourth quarter alone (12 of 15) Esperanza went six of seven and Trinity Schanbeck went four for four. Kentwood also shot the ball well from the stripe in the fourth going 10 out of 13 (77%).
Kentridge was able to ice the game away with free throws. With 10 seconds left, and down four, the Conquerors needed a three and couldn’t make one.
“When we go on the road it’s just an attack mentality that our kids have. When they have that mentality we have a chance, it doesn’t mean we’ll always win but we have a chance,” McDowell said.
And on the road they will go once again, this time they’ll take the 50-minute drive to the state capitol to face the Olympia Bears with a state berth on the line.
Kentridge (16-6) plays Olympia (12-11) at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 17.
McDowell had this to say about his next opponent.
“They’re a team that’s very methodical,” McDowell said. “It’s going to be a tough match-up, but once we get on the floor, it’s going to be a battle.”