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Tigers take command in second half, hand Mountaineers first loss

Jan. 9—Box Score

At Napavine

TIGERS 58, MOUNTAINEERS 37

Rainier10 10 9 8 — 37

Napavine16 8 16 18 — 58

Rainier (37) — Swenson 19, Askey 10, Hanson 6, Blackburn 2

Napavine (58) — Kaut 26, O'Neill 16, Evander 11, Gall 3, Hamilton 2

NAPAVINE — Midway through the third quarter on Tuesday, Napavine held a slim three-point lead over unbeaten Rainier.

The Tigers and Mountaineers were in the midst of a defensive battle, as neither team had hit 30 and both offenses were struggling to find any sort of rhythm.

Then, just as it has all season, the Napavine defense turned up the pressure, forcing several Rainier turnovers that led to easy baskets, scores that helped the Tigers quickly pull away for a convincing 58-37 win.

"That's why we press," Napavine coach Shane Schutz said. "We're trying to wear them down. And when that happens, sometimes you make poor choices ... We try to strike fear into teams. I thought tonight we did a good job of doing that."

The Tigers (14-1, 7-0 C2BL) finished the game on a 29-11 run, leaving them as the last unbeaten team in C2BL play, while the loss is Rainier's first of the season after a 13-0 start.

"You can't not show up against good teams," Rainier coach Brandon Eygabroad said. "And it's not a quarter or a half, it's 32 minutes. You gotta bring the intensity and bring an edge."

For about 20 minutes, both teams had that edge, as little separated them early on.

Napavine started off strong, taking a 16-7 lead in the first quarter, but the Mountaineers responded in the second and went into the locker room down just four.

While the Tigers were able to limit Angelica Askey, Brooklynn Swenson took command offensively for the Mountaineers, leading the way with 11 of Rainier's 20 points at the break.

"She's really a true competitor," Eygabroad said. "She brought that edge that we needed tonight as a team."

After the break, the Tigers scored nine straight to kick-start their run, extending their lead to 12 and igniting a packed gymnasium in the process.

"Just a good game for girls basketball," Schutz said. "How many 2B programs get to play in front of a packed house? ... You couldn't ask for a better quality experience for the kids."

The energy and intensity seemed to get the better of the Mountaineers early in the fourth, as they failed to get the ball past half-court on two straight possessions after a Napavine basket, turnovers that led to two more easy lay-ins for the Tigers.

In under a minute, the Tigers' lead ballooned from nine to 15. Even after a timeout, the turnovers woes continued, and the Napavine lead became 19. The Mountaineers finished the game with 19 turnovers.

"That was one of the big goals, to make them earn everything," Eygabroad said. "And they got quite a few easy ones."

Hayden Kaut took full advantage of those takeaways in transition, as she scored 16 points in the second half to finish with a game-high 26 points.

"Hayden is a kid who loves basketball, and at any time she can put the ball in the hole if she's on," Schutz said. "You can tell she was laser-focused tonight, and in a game like this I guess I wouldn't expect anything more. That's what great players do. They want to be in these types of games, and Hayden is no different."

Keira O'Neill had herself a game inside, scoring 16 points on 7 of 11 shooting while also coming down with 14 rebounds, nine of which came on the offensive end, and blocking two shots. Swenson finished with a team-high 19 points while shooting 8 for 15.

While frustrated with the result, Eygabroad made sure not to put too much stock in the loss, saying that "it's a learning lesson."

"If we win this game, we're thinking everything is rainbows and sunshine and we move on," Eygabroad said. "Now we can go break down and take a better look at ourselves."

Schutz shared a similar sentiment, saying that even though the two teams won't meet again in the regular season, he would not be surprised if they met again down the line.

"Tonight made both teams better," Schutz said. "It's game one of probably a three-round fight."