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State 4A girls: Poised Aylah Cornwall, Gonzaga Prep holds off Lake Stevens in Round-of-12 game, advances to quarterfinal

Feb. 28—TACOMA — The Gonzaga Prep Bullpups are one of the youngest teams at the State 4A tournament with just one senior and two juniors on the active roster.

They aren't playing like it, though, having won an overtime game in the district championship game to earn a protected No. 8 seed before taking some lumps against No. 1 Camas in the opening round.

On Wednesday, the Bullpups again showed resolve and strength belying their relative inexperience.

After trailing at halftime, G-Prep dominated on the defensive end in the third quarter, then leaned on its super freshman to make some huge free throws down the stretch.

Aylah Cornwall scored 18 points, including 5 of 6 from the line late in the fourth quarter, and the eighth-seeded Bullpups eliminated ninth-seeded Lake Stevens 49-46 in a State 4A round-of-12 game at Tacoma Dome.

G-Prep advances to a quarterfinal against second-seeded Woodinville at 2 p.m. Thursday.

"I'm just super proud of how we battled," G-Prep coach Geoff Arte said. "We look at everybody here — we don't scare anybody getting off the bus, and everybody else does. So, we're just we're battling, and we can't complain playing basketball at this time of year."

"Four months ago, I remember putting '130 days until state' on our whiteboard," G-Prep 6-foot-3 senior post Gillian Bears said. "And that day has finally come, and we all know what we came here to do and we're gonna keep doing it."

Cornwall, a first-team All-Greater Spokane League selection in her freshman season, added 12 rebounds for the Bullpups (20-6). Bears had 11 points and eight boards . Noelani Tupua led Lake Stevens with 15 points and seven rebounds.

Arte was surprised it was Cornwall that Lake Stevens decided to foul down the stretch.

"I think maybe because she missed some early, that maybe they thought she would miss some more," he said. "But that's who we want on the line when it comes down to it. So, we'll take that."

Cornwall was thrilled with her first state game at the Dome.

"It was just incredible," she said. "Seeing everybody here, all the people I've grown up playing with and against, seeing them here and just having this big, huge basketball facility for this weekend."

Bears converted a three-point play early in the fourth quarter for an eight-point lead. But Lake Stevens' Griffyn Eyman hit a corner 3, her first basket of the game, to cap a 7-0 run and make it a one-point game with 2:08 to go. Bears answered with a turnaround off the glass and Cornwall made 1 of 2 at the line to make it 45-41 with 1:03 left.

"We'd get it to seven, they get back to four," Arte said. "(Bears' bank shot) was a big one because we could kind of feel the momentum swinging and we really needed that."

Lake Stevens guard Tessa Anastasi banked in a 3-pointer with 11.4 seconds left to make it a one-point game. But Cornwall was sent back to the line and hit a pair for a three-point lead with 9.7 seconds to go.

"I was really nervous," Cornwall said. "I just knew that I had to make them if we wanted to win the game."

The Bullpups pressured the inbounds play and almost came up with a steal at midcourt. The Vikings' desperation heave at the buzzer never made it to the rim and the Bullpups held on.

"I don't know if much scares kids anymore," Arte said. "But yeah, we've grown up a lot in the last three weeks playing really good teams."

Cornwall hit a long 3 at the first-quarter buzzer, had eight points in the quarter, and G-Prep led 15-14 heading to the second quarter.

The Bullpups went cold in the second quarter. Tupua and Nisa Ellis hit back-to-back layups to put Lake Stevens up five with 3 1/2 minutes left in the quarter. G-Prep shot 27%, and just 2 of 11 from beyond the arc, and trailed 24-21 at halftime.

"I thought we were doing a lot of really good things in the first half, we just weren't making shots," Arte said. "We've got to shoot it like we think it's going in. Sometimes we can kind of get in that funk and I thought they did a really good job coming out of it."

Early in the third quarter, Quinn Pederson (nine points, seven rebounds) made a couple of buckets, then Cornwall went strongly to the hoop for a contested layup and free throw to put the Bullpups up 30-26. G-Prep got into the bonus early in the third quarter, hitting 8 of 11 at the line, and the Bullpups limited Lake Stevens (19-5) to two baskets and led 35-28 after three quarters.

"We've been playing good defense the last couple of weeks," Arte said. "We've just been grinding on people, and that's how we're gonna have to win games when you get against these good teams."