Trailing 38-32 in the third quarter against King’s on Friday night at Erickson Gymnasium, South Whidbey girls basketball was in contention to knock off the Cascade Conference’s top class 1A team.
Then senior Kacie Hanson tangled up with Knights’ guard Abbi Echelbarger. She fell with an ankle injury and had to be helped off the court.
The Falcons, playing on their Senior Night, struggled to get back on their collective feet following Hanson’s absence, and were outscored 22-8 in the final stretch. South Whidbey lost 60-40, dropping to 10-10 overall and 5-7 in league.
The Knights improved to 11-9 overall and 9-3 in league.
Watching a senior and impact player being helped off the court could blow the wind out of the sails of most teams. But it wasn’t so for the Falcons; they’d seen it all before. South Whidbey lost senior Kinsey Eager to injury earlier in the season, while the Falcons have also had to deal with other minor injuries and sicknesses to the core of their team in the past few weeks.
“It’s happened so much this season that, it sucks to say, but we’re almost used to it,” said senior Megan Drake. “Kacie is so tough that she’s just going to come back and play Monday.”
The Falcons will need all the help they can get when they host Meridian in the first round of the district tournament tonight at 4 p.m. in Erickson Gymnasium.
South Whidbey is seeded second and hosts the first round of the tournament for the second consecutive year, while Meridian is seeded third. The winner of the contest advances to the semifinals on Feb. 9, while the loser plays an elimination, loser-out game on Feb. 10.
Six Falcon seniors were honored on Friday night prior to the game: Drake, Hanson, Eager, Bailey Forsyth, Aria Ludtke and Emily Turpin. Because the Falcons played again at home on Tuesday night, Forsyth wasn’t impacted as emotionally as a senior might typically be if it was his or her final game in front of a home crowd.
“It’s cool to be recognized like that by our coaches and teammates; it’s a cool tradition,” Forsyth said. “But, it wasn’t anything that was super emotional.”
The Falcons were nearly at full strength at the start of the game for the first time since December. But, even with most of their core intact, the Falcons were outmatched by the Knights’ late in the second half. The Knights’ agile and accurate offensive players in Echelbarger, Casey Kispert, Annie Echelbarger and others stretched the Falcons’ defense to cover the outer perimeter. As the Knights did this, they exposed and struck South Whidbey’s defense where it was most vulnerable — under the hoop.
“They’re definitely one of the teams in our league that extends a lot,” Drake said. “…We knew they had shooters, so we wanted to extend out on those girls. I think we did a pretty good job, but the consequence of that was that they were able to get it inside and penetrate and stuff like that.”
Also causing problems was the Knights’ defense, which pursued the Falcons relentlessly across the length of the court and forced turnovers.
“It was their pressure,” senior Emily Turpin said. “We couldn’t really beat it that much.”
The fourth-year players were subbed out toward the end of the game so the team’s backups could get playing time. As the players departed, they embraced one another in hugs and were clearly not deterred by the final outcome of the game.
“The seniors stepped up,” Turpin said. “We’ve been waiting for this moment for forever.”