By CASEY OLSON, The Mirror
The extremely young Federal Way girls basketball team has already proven it is a team to be reckoned with in the South Puget Sound League North Division.
But the Eagles still have a little more work to do if they want to take down the two-time defending SPSL North champion Kentwood Conquerors. The Conks remained a perfect 9-0 in league play Tuesday night with a workman-like 59-43 win on Federal Way’s home court.
The loss dropped the Eagles to 6-3 in the North Division and 11-4 overall, but kept them in second place by themselves in the eight-team league.
The Conks hold a three-game advantage in the standings with just five games left in the regular season. Kentwood took on Jefferson Friday night (after press time) and could have clinched the North title with a win over the Raiders and a Federal Way loss at Tahoma.
It wasn’t the normally high-powered Conk offense that proved to be the difference Tuesday against the Eagles. The Kentwood defense forced Federal Way into well over 30 turnovers and limited the Eagle offense to just one field goal in the final 11:30 of the game — a Brittany Barrington 3-pointer with just 18.5 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Federal Way had a grand total of three field goals in the second half.
The game was actually a lot closer than the final score.
But, in the end, the big-game experience of Kentwood, and the all-around play of junior guard Lindsey Moore, seemed to wear down the young Eagles, whose four leading scorers were underclassmen. The Conks finished the contest with a 19-8 run to make the final score look a little more lopsided.
Moore ended up with 18 points and eight assists on the night, despite having an admittedly off shooting night.
“My shot definitely wasn’t going, so you have to find an easier way to get things started,” Moore said. “For me, it was attacking the hoop and making sure that they were collapsing. It was going to make it easier if we wanted to shoot the outside jumper.”
Despite Tuesday’s loss, the Eagles proved they can at least compete with the elite team in the SPSL. The 16-point loss was the closest game the Conquerors have played this year in the North Division. The first time Federal Way and Kentwood played this season, the Conks drubbed the Eagles by 41 points, 90-49.
Early on, it looked like it was going to be a repeat of the two teams’ first meeting of the season. Kentwood tallied the first six points of the game and also forced Federal Way’s leading scorer, 6-foot-1 freshman Talia Walton, to the bench with a pair of early fouls just two and half minutes into the opening quarter.
Walton came into the game averaging 14 points a game, but was limited to just one field goal and finished with three points Tuesday. Walton, who was saddled with foul trouble all night, scored a career-high 28 points in the Dec. 4 Kentwood win.
The Conks led 16-9 after the first quarter thanks to six points from Moore and a layup by Courtney Johnson with 5:23 left in the second gave Kentwood a 21-11 advantage.
But Federal Way didn’t fold. The Eagles went on a 13-7 run, highlighted by five Barrington points and a pair of layups from Molly Campbell, to cut the Kentwood lead to just four, 28-24, at the half.
The Conks tried to run away from Federal Way again to start the second half, thanks to a pair of 3-pointers by freshman point guard Kylie Huerta. The 5-footer hit both long-range shots during an 11-5 run to open the third quarter to put Kentwood back on top by 10, 39-29.
Moore gave credit to Huerta for giving the Conks’ offense a lot more room to work inside. On the night, Huerta hit four 3-pointers and finished with 14 points, including eight in the third quarter.
“That was what really opened things up, when she started looking to shoot,” Moore said. “She was huge. They started sucking out on her when she hit them.”
But the Eagles weren’t quite done. Junior Jacqie Evenson hit six free throws to cut the Kentwood lead to 40-35 with a minute left in the third.
Moore had the answer, however, and it came in the form of an off-balance, 3-pointer from 30-feet out. With the shot clock winding down, Moore basically threw up a shot at the rim that just happened to touch nothing but net. The shot sparked the game-ending, 19-6, Kentwood run.
“It was really just a lucky shot that happened to go in,” Moore said. “I knew where about the hoop was going to be and just wanted to hit the rim so it wasn’t a turnover.”
Federal Way was led by 15 points from Evenson and 14 rebounds from Walton. Barrington added eight points and Campbell chipped in six.
Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565, email@example.com