BETHANY — Back in the state tournament for the first time in four seasons and winners of 26 straight games, the Washington girls were proverbially hit in the mouth for maybe the first time all season Thursday afternoon at Southern Nazarene University.
All the Warriors did after falling behind six points in the opening minutes was outscore Spiro by 18 points the rest of the way.
Still perfect, third-ranked Washington earned today’s 8 p.m. semifinal date with No. 2 Alva by topping Spiro 73-61.
Warrior coach Rocky Clarke saw no great mystery in his players’ ability to fight back and prevail.
“They are winners,” he said. “They want to win. And when they want to win, they find a way.”
The way they found was no great mystery, either.
Though everybody played a role, 6-3 sophomore center Kelsey Johnson played the biggest one, cashing in a career-high 32 points. Her 11-of-16 afternoon from the field and 10-of-11 free-throw accuracy included one string of nine straight 2-point baskets without a miss.
“I was more aggressive offensively,” Johnson said. “I posted up a lot harder.”
It was what she did with the position that really mattered, for many is the post who struggles to receive the pass or hold on to the ball upon receiving it. Johnson suffered none of that, catching the ball, securing the ball and making the shot, which was always from close, yet hardly ever a layup.
“She has great hands and great touch,” said junior forward Kailee Orr, who followed Johnson with 13 points and a team-high seven rebounds.
The game’s biggest moment likely came with 2:53 remaining and the Warriors holding on to a seven-point edge. Johnson went up from close, was slapped on the way and awarded two free throws.
Spiro coach Kayla Carrington came out to near mid-court to complain and was hit with a technical foul. Johnson hit four straight free throws to push the lead back to 11.