Falcons tame Lions with first playoff win

First the Lions, next the Tigers — oh, my.

The South Whidbey Falcon girls basketball team entered Squalicum High School’s self-described “House of Thunder” Friday to play the Lynden Lions in the second round of District 1 playoffs.

And they beat ’em soundly,


“We were a bit dysfunctional in the first half, but tore them apart in the second with our passing and cutting game,” senior Jessi Eaton said.

Last night, the girls faced the Burlington-Edison Tigers (17-5) — the outcome will determine who, where, when or if they play next (check for updates.)

Last week, the girls lost 49-45 to Shorecrest. And so, the official Washington Interscholastic Activities Association bracket posting just inside the door to the gym Friday stated this was the “losers” game.

True enough, but certainly misleading — both teams looked like winners as they began their warm-up routines in the cavernous space.

Eaton caught the first hoop, but the Lion defense — short in stature but scrappy — kept scoring to a minimum. By the first break it was almost even at 9-8.

At first, it seemed the Falcons sorely missed Marcella Litwiller — out with a wounded knee — whose game average of 15 points and 11 rebounds helped the team get to the playoffs in the first place.

The Lions kept the girls off-balance — the game didn’t hit double digits until two minutes into the second quarter.

“Their tenacity kept us out of sync,” said South Whidbey Coach John Pyrtek.

Janelle Iversen, Erica Johnson and Lindsey Newman’s aggressive Big D helped keep the Lions in check until Caitie Newman’s first trey bearded the other team in their den.

Though Newman appeared to play in some pain from a hip injury, the girls managed to stay ahead 19-17 at the half.

A tiny contingent of Islanders, loud and proud, tried to keep the Falcons in front. “Girls, do it for your bus driver!” Tom “Tommy the Greek” Arhontas extolled from the sidelines.

The Lady Falcons exploded out of the gate as the second half began, scoring six points in the first minute.

Eaton and Lindsey began to hit some good shots, while Amanda LaVassar got her first three pointer of the season to celebrate her acceptance that day at the University of Washington.

As a result of Pyrtek’s adjustment to Litwiller’s absence, Lauren Sandri had one of her best games. “We all kind of switched around,” Sandri said.

“I went in as forward and Caitie took post,” she said. “The Lions out-hustled us at first and we shouldn’t have let them.”

Lindsey agreed.

“The coach said that ‘We have the height on them and we shouldn’t be letting them rebound,’” she said. “It gave everyone a little spark; we didn’t want the season to end.”

Nor did Pyrtek.

“We worked on Lindsey’s free throw mechanics in practice and she was perfect down the stretch when they had to foul; 6-for-6 in the last two minutes,” he said.

Lynden’s Jessie Roberts and Katie Loder did their best to stave off defeat. But in the end they were outmatched, outshot and just plain outclassed — the Falcons led 33-21 as the girls prepared the icing for the cake in the fourth.

The huge Lion contingent in the stands made a good deal of sound and fury, but it was all roar and no score. The Lady Falcons continued to plug the interior lines of defense and the Lions couldn’t manage to hit their outside shots.

“Good night, Irene,” Arhontas sang as the score finalized at 49-34.

Next up, Burlington-Edison, a familiar but first-class foe.

In December, South Whidbey lost to Burlington-Edison by 12 points.

“We were a different team then,” Sandri said. “We’re stronger now with more endurance.”

Newman recalled the team was over-confident in the third period. “We won’t make that mistake again, though we know they have good ball handling skills.”

It has been a long road to and through the playoffs, but the girls are ready.

“We’re a totally different team now,” Newman said. She had a big night against Lynden: 18 points, 18 rebounds and five steals.

Coach Pyrtek believes his team can win.

“They have a very talented post player and their guards are solid but young,” he said.

“It should be a very even game. We will put points on the board but with the thin bench — Britta Madison having left the team and Marcella’s injury — it will be a challenge to maintain the defensive solidarity we saw in the Shorecrest and Lynden fourth quarters.”

“Challenge” is defined as a task or situation that tests someone’s abilities — the next rung on the playoff ladder, for example.

Tigers, beware.

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