Girls beat clock, Royals

Brianne Dumke grabs a hug (left) as teammates Britta Madison, Mary McCune, Danielle Burton and Marcella Litwiller celebrate Saturday’s last-seconds, 56-55 victory over Lynnwood. - Matt Johnson
Brianne Dumke grabs a hug (left) as teammates Britta Madison, Mary McCune, Danielle Burton and Marcella Litwiller celebrate Saturday’s last-seconds, 56-55 victory over Lynnwood.
— image credit: Matt Johnson

Down 48-40 with five minutes to play Saturday night, the Falcon girls were staring a long off season in the face.

Their opponents, host Lynnwood High School, had just gone on a 6-0 run, had the ball and had the momentum. An appearance in the District 1 3A playoffs — a dream shared by all three seniors on South Whidbey’s team throughout their varsity careers — was fading.

Looking at the scoreboard, Falcon junior Caitie Newman felt something switch on. To that point, she’d scored 11 points to lead her team, but she knew South Whidbey needed more than that to win. And she knew how much more.

Over the next 64 seconds, Newman drove the Royal’s lane, was fouled twice, put up four perfect free throws and lobbed in one of her two three pointers as the Falcons pulled back into the game. After that, the hard work started.

Backed by a hardened defensive stance by her teammates, Newman would put up 11 of the Falcons 14 points in the closing minutes. But with 10 seconds to go, the Royals were still up 55-54 and South Whidbey needed a plan.

Formulated in one of the few timeouts Falcon coach John Pyrtek called during the game, that plan hinged on Newman’s hot hand. An inbounding pass to junior Marcella Litwiller put the ball in play; Litwiller’s perfect pass to where Newman positioned herself under the basket put the game up for grabs. Newman’s leaping two-hander into the basket put the game away, 56-55.

Seconds later, when Lynnwood’s anemic closing shot missed the mark, the South Whidbey bench exploded. After slogging through a 6-14 season up to that point, the Falcons were, improbably, going to the playoffs.

Newman said she was thrilled that she had what it took to be part of this, the biggest win of the year.

“I was happy to step up,” she said. “We were pretty proud of the team.”

Overall, the Falcons had one of their best nights on the court this season, shooting 14-of-22 from the free throw line and nailing five three-pointers — two from Newman, one from junior Jessi Eaton, and two from senior Danielle Burton.

Burton, one of the prime motivators behind her team’s determination to win Saturday, wanted a playoff appearance more than anything for herself and senior teammates Mary McCune and Brianne Dumke.

“I was crying I was so happy,” Burton said of the post-game celebration, which spilled onto the court and into the stands.

McCune, who played the first quarter of the game, said basketball playoffs are something she has waited her three years on the varsity team to see.

“We jumped on each other like it was the Superbowl,” she said.

Coach Pyrtek said the victory was all about motivation, the motivation that started with Danielle Burton, who added her 12 points on the night to the 24 Newman scored.

“She had a passion that would not be denied,” he said.

With Saturday’s victory, the Falcons go into the District 1 tournament as the sixth seed out of the Wesco-Cascades Conference. They will play third-ranked Ferndale at Ferndale High School in the opening, double-elimination round of the tournament.

Win or lose, the Falcons will play in their second game of the tournament at Bellingham High School on Saturday.

Wednesday’s game at Ferndale begins at 7:30 p.m.

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