Not to be denied, the Mabton High School girls basketball team won a pair of do-or-die games this past weekend to advance to the South/Central Athletic Conference District Tournament.
The Lady Vikings' reward? A match-up this coming Thursday against SCAC West champion Granger (13-1, 18-2). The 7 p.m. District tourney opener will be on the Spartans' home floor.
Should Mabton (6-8, 13-9) prevail Thursday, the Lady Vikes would advance to play either Burbank or Goldendale on Saturday in Wahluke at 5 p.m., with the winner of that contest advancing to the 1A State tourney. A loss to Granger this Thursday would drop Mabton into the District consolation bracket, and would force the Lady Vikes to play a loser-out game on Saturday at Wahluke at 1 p.m.
Mabton kept its season alive last Friday by claiming a come-from-behind 49-47 victory over White Swan. The two teams had tied for the No. 5 spot in the SCAC West. The tiebreaker game was staged on a neutral floor, in this case Granger.
The Cougars, down by one at the half, rode the performance of Josephine Wallahee in the third quarter to take a 38-27 lead into the final period. Wallahee, White Swan's post player, pumped in eight of the Cougars' 19 third quarter points.
Undeterred, Mabton fought back to outscore the Cougs by a 22-9 margin in the final period. Junior Ana Jimenez scorched the net for 13 points down the stretch, which included going 3-for-3 from treyland.
"We didn't panic," Mabton Coach Mike Roettger said of the 11-point deficit his club faced entering the final period.
"Our heads slowly started raising with each score we got against them," he said.
The key to Friday's victory was containing White Swan's leading scorer, Shelby Strom. The Lady Vikes employed a diamond-and-one defense to shut her down, with Brisi Enriquez and Theresa Flores assigned the task of guarding the prolific scorer.
"Those two kids, they played great defense," Roettger said of Flores and Enriquez's efforts, explaining that Strom was held scoreless in the first half and only had two points in the third quarter.
Roettger called off the diamond-and-one at the end of the third quarter, "...because they were getting some cheap stuff against us, some back-door stuff on us," he said.
Switching to straight man, the revitalized Lady Vikes limited White Swan to just nine points in the final quarter.
Leading Mabton's offensive charge against the Cougars was Jimenez, who canned a game-best 24 points. She got super support, however, from Kayla Campbell and Crysta Reynolds with nine and eight points, respectively. Six of Reynolds' eight points came in the pivotal fourth quarter.
The freshman Reynolds also had a big night on the boards, collecting a game-high 15 rebounds.
Saturday's crossover game against the SCAC East's No. 4 finisher, Kiona-Benton, was staged on the Bears' home floor. Ki-Be opened a 5-0 lead on the visitors, only to watch as the Lady Vikes responded with a 6-0 run of their own.
Mabton ended up taking firm control of the potential season-ending game by putting together an 11-1 run to end the first half. Jimenez and Reynolds combined for nine points during that stretch, which gave the Lady Vikes a 31-19 lead entering intermission.
The Lady Vikings outscored Ki-Be by a 26-22 margin in the second half.
Jimenez, Trishi Williams and Reynolds reached double-digits in the scoring column for Mabton, with 20, 14 and 10 points, respectively.
Roettger said one of the keys to the win was the large turnout of fans in the Ki-Be gym.
"We were tired from Friday's game, but once our fans got behind us, the girls got it going.
"I think we had more fans there Saturday night than Ki-Be did," he said. "I know the girls really appreciated the support.
"Overall, this was a great weekend for our kids.
"I told them this wasn't the way we wanted to get into District, having to play two loser-out games. But we're here now, and all the teams are back to being even.
"With each team having 20 or more games under their belt, there's not going to be a lot of surprises. It's going to come down to who executes and who doesn't," said Roettger.