LANGLEY — Coupeville died by the three, and South Whidbey lived by the free.
South Whidbey’s girls basketball team rallied from an eight-point deficit to defeat its Whidbey Island rival Coupeville, 43-36. The victory kept the Falcons in the 1A District 1 playoffs and ended the Wolves’ season.
“It feels so great,” said Falcon senior Ellie Greene. “I had so much adrenaline after that.”
Added Falcon senior Annalies Schuster: “This is more important than Monday’s game (against Nooksack Valley). It carries more weight.”
Free throws were the difference. South Whidbey converted 15 of 24 free throws. Coupeville only made 1 of 6.
Despite the foul disparity, Coupeville controlled the game for the first three quarters.
Trailing only 15-14 in the second quarter, the Falcons coughed up the ball twice in the final seconds. First on an offensive foul by Anne Madsen and then on a deep shot by Madi Boyd at the end of the shot clock. Poor execution on offense allowed the Wolves to pull out to an 18-15 lead by halftime.
It was an odd feeling for the Falcons. In the previous meeting, South Whidbey led from its first possession and ran away to a 49-25 victory. Having started the game slow and with plenty of missed shots put South Whidbey in a hole it did not anticipate.
By halftime the Wolves had hammered the paint with Coupeville’s leading scorer, sophomore post Hailey Hammer, with 8 points all in the key.
“We were nervous,” Boyd said. “Coach Davis asked us if we were nervous. He said we should be and used that as (motivation).”
Gaining on the Wolves’ lead was slow going. Midway through the third quarter, Coupeville pulled out to its largest lead of the night, 25-17, on a three-pointer by Wolves senior Bessie Walstad, who scored a team-high 12 points. South Whidbey was at a crossroads where either it would pull back into the game or watch Coupeville run away with the district playoff victory and eliminate the Falcons.
But Falcon head coach Andy Davis had the answer. South Whidbey relied on the slender shoulders of senior post Annalies Schuster. Admittedly, she relishes shot-blocking and not so much scoring. Against Coupeville’s shorter forwards, however, South Whidbey called Schuster’s number to lead the way, and she answered with a season-high 18 points.
“It’s always my duty as soon as they throw it in the post, once I get it, it’s not really an option to throw it out,” Schuster said. “It’s my job to score.”
On the Falcons’ next possession, junior point guard Madi Boyd swung the ball on the perimeter before finding Schuster in the paint. Triple-teamed, Schuster hoisted the ball up and banked in the layup through contact. She hit the free throw for a three-point play that cut Coupeville’s lead to 25-20. Coupeville was able to keep pace and stay ahead through the third quarter.
A little luck fell the Falcons’ way in the final period. On their first play, Coupeville slapped the ball out of Boyd’s hands as she dribbled. But the ball bounced back in her hands, so she hoisted a jump shot that snapped the net and cut the Wolves’ lead to 29-26.
South Whidbey cut into the lead and came within a point on Greene’s veteran move. On an inbound play, the Falcons loaded up the backcourt behind the three-point arc. Greene slipped behind her defender toward the hoop, caught the inbound pass and banked in two of her 15 points. South Whidbey fans erupted as momentum swung in the Falcons’ favor.
“I was just trying to keep the momentum up for us, that we could still win it,” Greene said.
Defense took South Whidbey the rest of the way.
After an airball three-pointer by Wolves senior Lauren Escalle — one of six Coupeville attempted in the fourth quarter — Schuster went to work in the key. She caught a high inbound pass over several Wolves defenders and dropped it in with a foul call for a three-point play that gave South Whidbey its first lead since the opening quarter, 35-33.
“It was a little bit more aggressive than I thought it would be,” Schuster said. “They were popping in on me.”
A desperation three at the top of the arc by Wolves junior Breeanna Messner cut the lead to 42-36 with 7 seconds remaining. Boyd’s free throw with 4 seconds left bumped the Falcons’ lead to 43-36 to end the game.
“Once we started to spread that gap out and were ahead, I was pretty excited. Making those free throws, I was getting into it,” laughed Boyd.
South Whidbey (6-8 Cascade Conference; 12-11 overall) traveled to Blaine (9-3 Northwest Conference; 16-6 overall) on Friday.