Ravens make statement with victory | NPSL girls basketball

Auburn Riverside’s girls basketball players did not mince words.

Not in the aftermath of a 41-40 win Tuesday night against previously undefeated Todd Beamer to claim sole possession of first place in North Puget Sound League 4A’s Olympic Division.

“People have been overlooking us, especially because we lost to Kentridge and Kentlake,” said Auburn Riverside point guard senior McKenzi Williams, who scored 14 points. “I know (Beamer) overlooked us – and they shouldn’t have.”

Classmate Olivia Denton, who added nine points and 11 rebounds, shared similar sentiments.

“I definitely think it was a statement,” she said. “We were ranked lower than them. I think we were just doubted. They were expected to win. We came back and showed them what we are made of. We’re not just going to stand down because you’re ahead of us.”

But coach Christian Miller was not ready to make proclamations.

“In perspective, we’re still really early on in the season, Beamer’s a really good team, and you’ve got a couple of big games coming up,” he said. “It’s a marathon. But it feels really good to get a win and stay in first place.”

The Ravens (7-2 overall, 6-0 Olympic) placed themselves in elite company with the victory. Dating back to the 2014-15 season, four teams – Gonzaga Prep, Bellevue, Lynnwood and Central Valley – have defeated the Titans. Each of those schools has won a state championship in the last two years.

“I think that’s more of a compliment to them because they’re a really good team and a really good program,” Miller said.

One that Auburn Riverside controlled for most of the contest. On the offensive end, the Ravens often executed the classic pick-and-roll set between Williams and 6-foot-3 center Faith Turner to perfection. Turner, who missed the beginning of the season with a sprained right ankle, finished with 14 points.

“I think we have a lot of chemistry naturally because we’ve know each other and have played with each other for a long time,” Turner said. “I don’t think that would go away in (a short) amount of time.”

Williams said Turner’s presence gives her more confidence to be aggressive because of her rebounding ability.

“It’s huge having her back,” she said.

Miller said he would be a “bad coach” if he did not showcase Turner’s and Williams’ skills through the pick and roll.

“You’ve got Z with her quickness, vision and scoring ability,” he said. “And you’ve got a 6-3 post who can finish and has good hands.”

That helped free Williams to drive for a layup as she was fouled with 1:59 left in the game. She converted the free throw to finish the three-point play that gave the Ravens a 41-36 lead.

“They were really collapsing hard on the middle and I really love to get to the hoop,” Williams said. “That was a big one because it got me hyped again.”

Forward Makenzie Bond hit a jumper to reduce Beamer’s deficit to 41-38 with 1:38 remaining, but it was the Titans’ last field goal.

Denton, who was set to attend Beamer before her family moved into the Auburn School District when she entered seventh grade, collected what appeared to be the game-sealing rebound with 18.6 seconds left. But Williams was fouled and missed a free throw to give the Titans (9-1, 6-1) another opportunity.

Williams then was called for fouling guard Japhera McEachin, who had 14 points, as she was attempting a 3-pointer with one-tenth of a second remaining. That meant McEachin had to convert all three to send the game into overtime. But she missed the final two attempts.

“We’ve been working all year on being mentally tough and mentally strong,” Miller said. “There’s going to be ups and downs during a game, just like life. When we have success, it’s because of their mental toughness.”

Williams believes her team can build on the victory.

“It was such a big win for us. That’s a three-year state contender that we came in and beat. That’s a statement to 4A.

“Watch out.”